Richard Jerome Ridley Jr., peacefully departed this life on the morning of October 21, 2023, in the embracing comfort of his loved ones. He was born on November 8, 1937, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to his birth parents, Richard J. Ridley Sr. and Estella Collins Boggess. At nine years old he found his second mother, Oddie E. Essex Ridley. He attended L.C. Ward Elementary School, Bethlehem Lutheran School, and Concordia Lutheran High School, where he made a remarkable mark both academically and athletically.
Notably, he broke barriers as the first Black male student at Bethlehem Lutheran School and first 4-year Black male student at Concordia Lutheran High School, demonstrating his academic and athletic excellence. He completed his education at Concordia, and inspired by his JROTC training, embarked on a courageous journey as a member of the U.S. Army, serving in the 101st Airborne Division, 101 Paratroopers, and the 327th Battle Group from 1956 to 1960, before receiving an honorable discharge and then enrolling in Indiana Business College.
After graduating from Indiana Business College (seventh in his class), he encountered employment barriers in his degreed field, but was undeterred. Inspired by community activism, and a desire to challenge racial disparities AND provide for his family; he instead sought opportunities with the Fort Wayne Fire Department. On October 7, 1961, Richard J. Ridley Jr. made history as the first Black firefighter in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He persevered through adversity, racism, and hostility, dedicating himself as a devoted public servant, and also developed a model physical fitness training program for firefighters; championing affirmative action for "Equal Opportunity Employment," and supporting youth athletic programs sponsored by firefighters. Mr. Ridley served on several boards, committees and commissions to include: International Fire Service Training Association, National Fire Protection Association, Fort Wayne Urban League, NAACP and numerous other boards and committees.
Like a true firefighter, he courageously faced the perils of duty to serve the community, remaining in service until his retirement as Combat District Chief in October 1985. Richard was awarded the inaugural IAFF Local 124/FWFD Pioneer Award and was also inducted, into the Concordia Lutheran High School JROTC Hall of Honor, which recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves as leaders.
Beyond his remarkable firefighting career, in 1972 Richard established Ridley Carpet & Flooring, a highly successful business; that provided exemplary service and long-term employment opportunities for minority trade workers. This service provided all areas of flooring for residential, business, industrial and educational facilities, with a lasting impact throughout the community today.
Richard was a stern yet extremely fun and loving man, who completely embraced children as hope of the future. He sincerely loved to support the light and energy in people, always finding the positive approach, when possible. He loved FAMILY!!
Richard was preceded in death by his parents and sisters: Mable Laverne Ridley Hill, Lillian A. Ridley Johnson; Nephews: Peter M. Hogan Jr. and Lionel Q. Hogan Sr., and Tyler Ridley.
He leaves to cherish his memory his loving and dedicated wife: Janice M. (Harris) Ridley, children: Anthony J. (Rebecca) Ridley, Richard J. (Condra) Ridley III, Teresa Ridley Yarbrough, Nicholas P. Ridley, Tiea Q. Lee, Antwian S. Lake, Takiyah S. Lake and Randall C. Ridley.
Siblings: Sisters Rev. Juanita V. Ridley (Rev. Emmanuel III) Wasson, Erma J. (d. Peter M. Sr.) Hogan, Roberta F. Ridley, Cynthia J. Ridley (Walter) Underwood, Danielle D. Ridley, and one brother James Irvin (Nicole) Ridley Sr.
He also leaves grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and dedicated “Harris” loving In-laws, friends and neighbors.
Richard's legacy of resilience, commitment, LOVE of family and community service will forever be remembered and celebrated by those whose lives he touched.
The Taskmaster, Main Man and Voice of Reason Has Chosen to Rest !!!