Richard Hinch, Speaker of New Hampshire House, Dies at 71

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Richard Hinch, a Republican who was sworn in as speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Dec. 2, was looking forward to a productive legislative session. After two years of Democrats running the state’s House and Senate, Republicans had taken back both in November and held the governor’s office, giving the party total control over state government.

They moved quickly to overturn Democratic rules, voting to allow lawmakers to carry concealed firearms on the House floor and to eliminate a requirement that members attend anti-sexual harassment training.

Those were among the first acts of business that Mr. Hinch presided over in public as speaker, and they were also among the last. He died a week into his term, on Dec. 9, at his home in Merrimack. He was 71. The state medical examiner said the cause was the coronavirus.

The state was investigating how Mr. Hinch had contracted the virus. He had attended a handful of Republican events where most lawmakers were not wearing masks, but it was not clear how often he wore one. He did wear a mask at his swearing-in ceremony, which was held outdoors, but for part of the time the mask did not cover his nose.

A heated battle erupted in Concord, the capital, over who was to blame for his death. Gov. Chris Sununu lashed out at the Republican lawmakers who had ignored his order for all residents over the age of 5 to wear masks, saying they were making “some ridiculous political point” and acting like children.

Mr. Hinch, described by friends as unfailingly affable and optimistic, was starting his seventh term as a state representative. He had served as minority leader and majority leader, but never as speaker.

Eager to get down to business, he wanted to reopen the statehouse and the legislative office building, which have largely been closed since March because of the pandemic.

“He firmly believed we needed to get those buildings opened,” State Senate President Chuck Morse said in a phone interview, adding that Mr. Hinch was making calls to find the right equipment to ventilate the buildings.

He also quickly paved the way for a new Republican-dominated finance committee to accept millions of dollars in federal aid to expand charter schools in the state, a move that had been blocked by Democrats.

“Dick was very much about a conservative approach to just about everything,” Mr. Morse said, “whether business taxes or election law or education.”

Mr. Hinch was born on May 1, 1949, in Marblehead, Mass., to Fred and Helen (Pratt) Hinch. After graduating from Marblehead High School, he served in the Navy and studied business management at Salem State University, graduating in 1974.

Moving to New Hampshire, he worked in sales and real estate and eventually co-founded Hinch-Crowley Realty Associates in Nashua.

His survivors include his wife, Patricia (Linihan) Hinch; a son, James; and a daughter Kelly Snow.

Mr. Hinch was an early riser and bubbled over with ideas as he held court with fellow lawmakers in the cafeteria at the statehouse. He spent considerable time recruiting candidates to run for office and helped them with their messaging and raising money.

“He was very much about being nice in how he talked to people,” Mr. Morse said. “If he disagreed with you, he’d get his point across without being stern. He was always happy.”

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