Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) suffers from depression and recently tried to take his own life.
Richardson, in a statement to the media, said Friday that he has been suffering from depression for the past 2 1/2 years since the separation from his wife and subsequent divorce.
“While depression often seems to be resolved on occasion, when personal trials or tribulations arise, it flares back up,” Richardson said in the statement. “That is what occurred with me. My depression became so severe that I took substantial steps to do harm to myself and to take my own life. I am thankful that because of medical intervention I have instead been able to now receive help and support.”
Richardson said he regularly sees a physician and takes prescription medications for his condition.
No details regarding the suicide attempt were provided, and Richardson’s spokesman declined to make further comment. WSB-TV reported at 6 p.m. that Paulding County sheriff’s officials said they were called to his home Sunday evening and Richardson was rushed to a hospital. Cpl. Brandon Gurley, the public information officer for the Paulding County sheriff, would not comment when asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While not directly addressing the issue, Richardson appears to be planning to continue in his role as the leader of the House of Representatives.
“I ask that the media use discernment if they report this and remember my friends and family who are also hurting,” he said. “I fully believe this has and will continue to push me to find my best self and use my position of leadership to raise awareness and let others know they are not alone. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.”
That effort was already under way late Friday. Christina Owens, area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in metro Atlanta, said her group was “encouraged” by Richardson’s “willingness to speak out about his battle with depression. We hope his courage will bring much-needed awareness to this public health crisis.”
Suicide and mental disorders such as depression, she said, “are surrounded by stigma and misconceptions which prevent many people from seeking the help they desperately need.”
Richardson is the state’s first Republican speaker of the House since Reconstruction. A Douglas County native, Richardson graduated from Georgia State University, where he also earned his law degree in 1984.
He was elected to the state House in 1996, and in 2003, Republicans elected Richardson minority leader. When the GOP took over the House following the 2004 elections, Richardson was chosen as speaker. As speaker, Richardson has worked to grow the Republican majority while the GOP has learned to govern. Richardson has consolidated power and on occasion has punished fellow Republicans who did not back his moves.
He has also had high-profile battles with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Gov. Sonny Perdue, both fellow Republicans, over everything from transportation funding to the budget.
But in the past year, Richardson has seemed to mellow. Following a contentious 2008 legislative session, when Richardson called on Cagle to “be a man” and called on voters to replace the lieutenant governor, Richardson adopted a new tactic. He decided to essentially stop speaking to the media, squashed any thoughts of running for governor, and told fellow Republicans at the national convention in Minnesota that he had learned not to always say what he was thinking.
Yet, the problems in his personal life apparently continued.
Glenn and Susan Richardson filed for an uncontested divorce in Paulding County in February 2008. But controversy has surrounded the case because Paulding County Judge James Osborne agreed to seal the file the same day the divorce was granted. Osborne is Glenn Richardson’s former law partner, and the judge’s daughter worked at Richardson’s law firm in Dallas.
Richardson, in a court filing, and Osborne, in an interview, denied that Richardson received preferential treatment.
Another judge later unsealed a portion of the divorce file. The documents returned to the public file included Susan Richardson’s complaint and the order detailing the terms of child custody. The complaint described the marriage as “irretrievably broken,” but it provided no details.
Reaction began to come in late Friday from Richardson’s colleagues in the House, several of whom heard from Richardson before the statement was released.
Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek), who typically leads the chamber when Richardson steps away, said Richardson “has always been and will always be a brilliant political leader and dear friend.”
“Most importantly, each of us are praying for him and his family,” Burkhalter said. “His willingness to share this difficult experience clearly demonstrates his amazing courage. Speaker Richardson is a true champion, and we in the House of Representatives look forward to his continued leadership and recovery.”
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) said his “thoughts and prayers are with Glenn and his family. I am glad he sought the help that he needed to. People need to know many people suffer from depression and there is help that can be provided for that. I am thankful he got the help he needed.”
A spokesman for Perdue said the governor would have no comment.
Cagle has “reached out to Speaker Richardson to let him know that he and Nita will be praying for him and his family during this difficult time,” Cagle spokeswoman Jaillene Hunter said.
Former Republican lawmaker Matt Towery, who runs an online media and polling firm, said his phone “blew up” after the news came out about Richardson.
“Everybody who knows Glenn feels sorry for him,” Towery said. “This is going to be the atypical moment when politicians don’t act like politicians and actually care about somebody.”
Towery said it will be up to Richardson to decide whether he remains speaker. He said none of the politicians he talked to would take political advantage of the situation.
“I have seen political leaders who have had really serious problems strengthen and overcome it and it became a hallmark for them becoming more important and powerful down the road,” he said. “I have seen other instances where it causes them to have to reassess their ability to govern and continue in politics. I don’t know which direction it will go.”
Richardson is a former county attorney for Paulding County and is currently a board member of WestSide Bank in Hiram, a 3-year-old institution that is reeling from real estate losses, like many Georgia banks. WestSide lost nearly $3 million in the third quarter and saw its pool of bad loans reach about $19 million. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Marietta Republican, is also on the board.
Staff writers James Salzer and Paul Donsky contributed to this report.
The Glenn Richardson file
· Richardson was born in Douglas County and graduated from Douglas County High School in 1978.
· In 1981, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Georgia State University and was a member of Georgia State’s first law school class. He earned his Juris Doctor in 1984.
· In 1985, Richardson joined the firm of Vinson & Osborne in Dallas and made partner two years later. He continues to practice with the firm, now known as Talley, Richardson & Cable.
· He was appointed to serve as county attorney for Paulding County in 1989, and he served in that position for 16 years.
· In 1996, Richardson became the first Republican from Paulding County to be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives since Reconstruction.
· Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Richardson to serve as the administration floor leader in the House, and in November 2003, the Republican Caucus chose him to serve as minority leader.
· He was elected to his seventh consecutive term in 2008 to represent House District 19
· In 2005, Richardson was named speaker of the House
· He became chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference and the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee in 2006
· In 2009, he was unanimously elected to serve a third term as speaker
· Richardson has three children: Bryn, Will and Maggie
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