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Rich Buchanan, Former Bloomington Mayor, Longtime Public Servant, Dies

Rich and Judy Buchanan
Eric Stock
Rich and Judy Buchanan were named McLean County History Makers in 2019.

Former Bloomington Mayor Rich Buchanan, who spent more than four decades in public service and helped strengthen collaboration between the Twin Cities, died Tuesday. He was 81.

Buchanan served as Bloomington mayor from 1977 to 1985, after two terms on the city council.

In a 2019 interview with WGLT, Buchanan reflected on his time leading the city.

“I just loved being mayor,” Buchanan said. “I think I was well received. People didn’t beat up on me too much.”

Former Normal Mayor Paul Harmon served on the Normal Town Council when Buchanan was mayor of Bloomington. Harmon said Buchanan fostered a new spirit of cooperation between the Twin Cities.

“The most outstanding thing to me is he is the first mayor of Bloomington who worked very hard to work with the mayor of Normal, Dick Godfrey at the time,” Harmon recalled. “It was the first time the mayors of the two cities had a decent relationship as far as I’m concerned.”

Harmon said Buchanan recognized the Town of Normal was “growing up” and had plenty to offer its larger neighbor.

“Normal was much more significant in the relationship that it had been in the past,” Harmon said. “I think Rich recognized that.”

Harmon said that partnership helped Bloomington-Normal and McLean County forge an agreement to entice what would become Mitsubishi Motors to build a plant in Normal. That enterprise zone agreement of tax incentives is still in place today.

Current Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he worked on various projects with Buchanan and his wife, Judy, for decades --  long before Renner became mayor in 2013. He saw Rich Buchanan as a rare breed in politics.

“He was always wonderful to work with,” Renner said. “He was honest. He was a straight shooter. He didn’t have hidden agendas. That’s rare in public service.”

Renner said even when Buchanan opposed an idea, he never made it personal. Renner said Buchanan was always happy to talk through differences. In fact, Renner said that was a part of public service Buchanan seemed to love.

“He was certainly somebody that even if you disagreed you could sit down and chat with him and talk about things,” Renner said. “He was a teetotaler so you wouldn’t sit down and have a beer with him, but the equivalent of a beer.”

While Buchanan didn’t drink, he served more than three decades on Bloomington’s liquor commission.

“I loved going into bars,” Buchanan said in 2019. “I’d come home at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning after watching the bars close.”

“You don’t have to drink to enjoy things.”

More recently, Buchanan served on the McLean County Board until 2017 when he had to resign because of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Sonja Reece served six terms on the Normal Town Council and became close friends with Rich and Judy Buchanan. Reece and Judy Buchanan had both worked in health care. Judy Buchanan was a health care advocate for many years.

Reece noticed how well the Buchanans worked as a team.

“They were so supportive of each other, involved in so many ways,” Reece said. “When you see that, it’s almost one-plus-one equals 10 because they put all their energies behind their projects.”

Reece said she learned early on Rich Buchanan had a thoughtful approach to handling thorny issues. When Buchanan was mayor, Reece worked for Mennonite Hospital which is now Carle BroMenn Medical Center. Mennonite asked the city council for permission to take over a city street for a planned hospital expansion.

Reece said Buchanan helped guide discussion on the city council to address concerns and eventually gain enough support for the plan to pass.

“The meeting went on until midnight when he felt he had the votes to pass it and they did,” Reece said. “And there was joy for those of us that waited through that meeting just to hear that.”

Rich and Judy Buchanan were honored in 2019 as McLean County History Makers by the McLean County Museum of History.

Kibler-Brady-Ruestman Memorial Home in Bloomington is handling Rich Buchanan's funeral arrangements. The family is planning a private service for now and intends to have a public celebration of Buchanan’s life once it is safer to do so, because of the pandemic.

Buchanan is the city’s second former mayor to die in the last month. Judy Markowitz, the first city’s female mayor, died in February.

Renner said flags at city hall and all city offices will be flown at half-staff for the next few days in honor of Buchanan’s service to the community.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.