Photo courtesy of House Republicans
Richard Belden with Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (Photo courtesy of House Republicans)

Republican State Rep. Richard Belden of Shelton, the longest serving member of the General Assembly passed away Monday morning, state officials said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who received the news about Belden’s death from her staff after a Monday morning press conference, told a handful of reporters that Belden, her mentor, and Connecticut’s longest consecutively serving state legislator had died.

Saddened by the news Mrs. Rell left for another event before issuing an official statement, which came later Monday afternoon.

“The Capitol will be a sadder place without Dick Belden. His advocacy on so many issues – from fiscal restraint to open space preservation to tough drunk-driving laws – helped to make our state a better place,” Rell said in a press release.

“As the longest-serving member of the General Assembly – the ‘Dean’ of the House of Representatives -his knowledge, insight and personal warmth were treasured by colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Rell said.

Many other legislators, even those on the other side of the aisle felt the same way.

Speaker of the House James Amann, a Democrat from Milford, said, “Dick Belden always conducted himself as a gentleman, had great respect for legislative tradition and best of all, his word was his bond.” Amann, who remembers working with Belden on farmland preservation said, “Dick believed, the best legislation is done on a bipartisan basis.”

Belden was first elected to the legislature in 1974 and began serving his first term in 1975. In 1981 and 1983 he was appointed Assistant House Republican Leader and served as Deputy Speaker of the House in 1985 and 1986. In 1987, he was appointed Deputy Republican Leader and from 1993 – 2006, he was the Deputy Minority Leader-at-Large and the ranking member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

Republican Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk said, “The City of Shelton and the entire state of Connecticut have lost an incredible leader and we have all lost a true friend. Anyone whose life was touched by Dick appreciated his trademark wisdom and wit, his quick smile and laughter.”

“We all relied on his institutional memory, but just as importantly his innate sense of fairness and respect for the legislative process. As the new leader of the House Republicans his advice and sage guidance to me were invaluable,” Cafero said in a statement posted on the House Republican’s Web site.

But more important than the advice Belden gave to legislators on both sides of the aisle, it’s his kindness they will remember.

“The kindness he exhibited to all, and his sense of what was right, will be sorely missed,” Cafero said.

Belden died from a heart attack, state officials said.

According to Belden’s biography on the House Republican Web site, Belden graduated from the Shelton High School in 1953 and served his country in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1961. In 1999, Rep. Belden retired from Sikorsky Aircraft after 38 years of employment.

Belden was an active member of the St. Margaret Mary Church and a member of American Legion Post 16. In addition he volunteered his time helping organizations like the Valley Substance Abuse Council, the Lower Naugatuck Boys and Girls Club, two area hospitals, and the Emmett O’Brien Regional Vocational-Technical School.

He is survived by his wife Bertha. The two have been married since 1956.

Mrs. Rell has ordered flags be lowered to half-staff the day of Belden’s internment, which has yet to be scheduled.