Reno County farmer Mark Richardson, active on several local boards and an advocate of alternative energy, died Monday at Ascension Via Christi-St. Francis, Wichita, following complications from heart surgery.

His death was unexpected, and the family had anticipated he would be home for Christmas Eve.

All three Reno County Commissioners spoke of Richardson at their Wednesday meeting. Richardson was “a great advocate” for agriculture and agricultural industries, Commission Chairman Ron Hirst said. “We’re going to miss him greatly,” Commissioner Bob Bush said.

Commissioner Dan Deming remembered Richardson and his family in the opening prayer, “giving thanks for Mark’s life” and asking for comfort for the family.

Richardson, 69, was slated to be reappointed by county commissioners Wednesday to a third term on the Reno County Planning Commission. He also served on the boards of the Historic Fox Theatre, the Hutchinson Community Foundation, and the Climate and Energy Project, as well as other boards.

Richardson grew up on a farm near Nickerson. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Pittsburg State University and had considered teaching. Working for the railroad, however, proved more lucrative and he was an engineer with BNSF Railroad, retiring in 2009.

His father died when Richardson was a young man and he faced the choice of farming or working on the railroad or both. He chose both. Through the years his role on the farm diminished, but he continued to own the land.

Richardson was “a great guy” and “a strong community member,” said State Sen. Ed Berger, R-Hutchinson. He was “a very positive advocate” for wind energy and other alternative forms of energy, having a vision of how it could help farmers and the country, Berger said. Richardson was “certainly someone whose opinion I valued strongly,” he said.

“He always seemed to know the right tone to strike when he was in meetings, whether he was in meetings with legislators or with other farmers,” said Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project.

In 2007, Barnett was with the Reno County 2020 Growth Coalition that encouraged Reno County to establish a wind energy task force. Among people in the county who volunteered to serve on the task force was Richardson, and county commissioners appointed him.

“He just soaked up all the information he could find,” Barnett said.

Richardson traveled to national conferences on wind energy and testified before Kansas lawmakers. Most recently he went to a conference in Washington, D.C, and was learning what was next on the horizon for the utility model, Barnett said. She described Richardson’s death as a “huge loss for the community.”

“He never was too busy to stop and talk to you, and really talk about the things that mattered, and to ask how you were. And I admired that about him. He wasn’t always in a rush to get somewhere. He enjoyed people,” said Aubrey Patterson, president and chief executive officer of the Hutchinson Community Foundation.

Richardson shared his views “in a very kind and disarming kind of way,” Patterson said. He especially advocated on the community foundation board for people living in rural areas. “He did that gently but always consistently pushing us, and I just respected that about him so much,” she said.

Richardson and wife Susan Richardson have two grown children, Michael, living in California, and Elizabeth, in Virginia. They have three grandchildren, and a fourth grandchild is due in about six months.

“He made life fun and interesting,” Susan Richardson said.

He was mechanically creative - “he could fix anything,” she said - and loved to travel. They went to China, Australia, and New Zealand, and to Europe multiple times. Last summer they went to Sweden to pick up the Volvo he had ordered.

They made it a point to expose their children to learning experiences, and visited presidential libraries and state capitols. When his daughter was pursuing degree work, Richardson went along on a trip to Ecuador. The plan was for him to return one day to the Galapagos Islands with Susan.

He spent hours and hours on the computer doing research, she said. When he was asked about joining the Fox Theatre board, he said, “‘I don’t have any qualifications, but I’m willing to help,’” Susan said.

“He was generous, he wanted to give back,” she said.

He underwent surgery in Wichita in mid-December. “Everybody had taken a liking to Mark,” Susan said, and hospital staff came in and cried, too, at the end.

Elliott Mortuary and Crematory, 1219 N. Main St., is in charge of arrangements.

A notice appears in The News today, and more service details will be published in the Sunday edition of The News.