Keith Richman, a three-term Republican state assemblyman who fought for pension reform and was a leader in the San Fernando Valley secession movement, has died. He was 56.

Richman died of brain cancer Friday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said his brother Craig.

A physician, Richman was elected in 2000 to the California Assembly, representing the 38th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, Simi Valley and northeast San Fernando Valley. He could serve only six years because of term limits.

"He advocated for so many important causes in California, including healthcare and pension reform, and his work for our state made a lasting impact that will be remembered," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement Saturday.

Richman tried unsuccessfully to qualify a pension reform initiative for the state ballot.

Former Valley Assemblyman Richard Katz, a Democrat, noted that Richman tried to call attention to public employee retirement costs years ago.

"He was talking about pension reform when no one else was talking about it," Katz told The Times on Saturday. "It's become a central debate today."

Richman was a founder and board member of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, which in recent years worked to highlight public pension costs, including posting names of thousands of six-figure pension recipients online.

Keith Stuart Richman was born Nov. 21, 1953, in Syracuse, N.Y., but his family moved to the San Fernando Valley when he was a toddler. He went to Birmingham High School in Van Nuys and enrolled at UC Davis, where he played baseball and graduated in 1975, his brother said. Richman earned his medical degree and a master's in public health at UCLA.

Before getting into politics, Richman was chairman of the board of Lakeside Community Healthcare Inc., a Glendale-based medical group he founded.

Richman stood about 6 feet 3, spoke in a deep baritone and never wrote his speeches beforehand, recalled Gary Washburn, who worked for the assemblyman and managed most of his campaigns.

A particular passion was the San Fernando Valley, where he followed his father, a Los Angeles Community College District trustee and doctor, into public service, Washburn said.

"His main concern was giving the Valley a voice," Washburn said, recalling Richman's campaign for Valley mayor during the area's 2002 secession election. "He became the face of the secession movement."

Richman was the top vote-getter in the contest, but the secession drive failed when other parts of the city rejected the split.

Still, through the effort to break away from Los Angeles, Richman was among a group of leaders who helped heighten awareness about the Valley's needs at City Hall, Washburn said.

In addition to his brother Craig, Richman is survived by his wife, Suzan; two daughters, Dina and Rachel; his parents, Esther and Monroe; another brother, David; and a sister, Marla.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills.

rich.connell@latimes.com keith.thursby@latimes.com