Anne Francis Hazard Richardson, 69, who was chairman of the Reading Is Fundamental program from 1981 to 1996, died July 26 at Prince George's Hospital Center. She had Alzheimer's disease.

She was the wife of Elliot L. Richardson, the former ambassador to Great Britain and cabinet officer in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Richardson resigned as attorney general in 1973 in the face of an order by President Richard M. Nixon to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Since 1978, Mrs. Richardson also had been chairman of the advisory board of Second Genesis, a Washington area residential drug treatment program. In this capacity, she was a mentor and counselor to staff members and residents.

As the wife of a young Massachusetts politician, she campaigned in support of Richardson in his successful races for lieutenant governor in 1964 and attorney general in 1966, keeping an independent campaign schedule, making speeches and rallying supporters across the state.

In 1973, when Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox, the independent prosecutor investigating the 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters and the allegations of an official coverup, the attorney general discussed the matter with his wife.

"There was never any doubt about Elliot's resignation. Once the president insisted that he remove Archibald Cox, Elliot knew that he had no choice but to step down, and I agreed with him," Mrs. Richardson told Parade magazine in November 1973. "He consulted with me about the details surrounding the announcement of his resignation and asked me how I thought the public would react to the news.

"Neither of us expected the tremendous ovation his colleagues gave him when we walked into the Great Hall of Justice for the post-resignation press conference. . . . I found it difficult to keep from crying. . . . My role throughout the week prior to Elliot's resignation was supportive. I think he did the right thing."

A resident of Mitchellville, Mrs. Richardson was born in Providence, R.I., and she graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe College. She met her future husband, then a young law associate, at a dance during her senior year in college. She would later say that he made a pest of himself by constantly cutting in, but she put up with it because he was a superb dancer.

They were married in 1952 after she graduated. "I can always remember," she told Parade, "how my girl friend reacted when I told her I was thinking of marrying Elliot. 'He's a nice guy,' she said, 'but you'll have such a dull predictable life. You'll be the wife of a Boston lawyer. He'll do well and you'll live in a slightly bigger house 10 years after you get married. You'll have no worries.' Every time I see her I think, 'Wow! What a bum steer you gave me.' "

After her marriage, Mrs. Richardson taught school for a year in Brookline, Mass., but for much of their marriage, they lived alternately in Boston and Washington as he held a variety of government jobs.

In 1969, she joined the board of directors of Reading Is Fundamental, the nation's largest literacy organization, which attempts to instill a love of learning in children. During Mrs. Richardson's years as head of the program, the number of children served grew to 3.7 million from 3 million, and the volunteer force increased to 219,000 from 100,000. To promote the program's message of the importance of reading, she traveled extensively across the United States, and she lobbied on Capitol Hill for federal funding, which increased to $13.2 million from $7.6 million during her stewardship.

Awards for her literacy efforts included the National Parnassus Award from the Arizona Center for the Book, the Helen Homans Gilbert Award for Volunteer Service from Radcliffe College and an honorary doctorate from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

In a statement from her Texas office, former first lady Barbara Bush, a longtime supporter of reading programs for children, said: "George and I are deeply saddened to learn of Anne Richardson's passing. She was a very precious friend, admired by so many, and thanks to her tireless efforts with Reading Is Fundamental, millions of children have learned the joy of a good book."

Mrs. Richardson also was a singer and a member of several choral groups, including the Washington Oratorio Society, where she served 20 years on the board of directors.

In addition to her husband, survivors include three children, Nancy Carlson of St. George, Vt., Henry Richardson of Washington and Michael Richardson of Upper Montclair, N.J.; a sister, Mary "Muffy" Conrad of Albuquerque; two brothers, T.P. Hazard Jr. of Rockville and Oliver C. Hazard of Bedford, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.