Peabody Resident Captain William Ridgley Honored
Bill, a resident of the Budnick Center for Living, was bestowed a portrait banner for his impact upon the Greater Boston community.
As one of the first African-American fire department Captains in the city of Cambridge, William Ridgley, a resident at the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody, was recently honored by the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington. The organization unveiled portrait banners depicting prominent figures in African American history who have made significant impacts on the Lexington community, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the nation.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1936 to Marguerite Eleanor Ridgley and Frederick Ridgley, Bill is the seventh child amongst eleven siblings. From a young age, Bill always had a strong sense of responsibility. He engaged in activities to help others and led by example as a Boy Scout and traffic crossing guard. His sister Maxine recalls the time he jumped into action to help a neighborhood boy experiencing a seizure.
Not surprisingly, Bill rose to the call of duty when he enlisted in the United States Army in January 1958 in the middle of the Vietnam War. Initially stationed in Oahu and assigned to the 25th infantry, Bill was deployed to Laos where his unit came under attack and engaged in combat. From 1961 to 1963, Bill served in the Army Corps where he received the Good Conduct Medal and stayed until his honorable discharge. To this day, Bill has remained fascinated with military history and is heralded as a history buff specializing in World War I and World War II.
Ever the pragmatist, Bill realized that fire services would be an honorable career and joined the Cambridge Fire Department in 1961. in 1964, Bill returned to Cambridge where he married Beverly Fuller and had two children, Michelle, and William Jr. The family moved to Lexington in 1968, where they became active in the community. Bill went on to earn his Associate Degree in Fire Sciences from Massachusetts Bay Community College in 1976, graduating with honors.
As he rose through the ranks, Bill continued to lead by example, teaching the next generation of firefighters, both as an Instructor at the Massachusetts Fire Academy, and also as supervising instructor for the Junior Fire Brigade Program in the City of Cambridge. John Gelinas, a Lieutenant under Bill, remarked that Bill was highly respected by all who worked with him. Gelinas described that Bill’s sense of duty as “incredibly strong.” During one EMT training class, he recalls how they heard a woman being attacked across the street and Bill was the first to spring into action, sliding down the fire pole to come to her aid. All of his hard work and perseverance paid off when Bill became a Captain in the Fire Department in 1982, a rank reached only by five other black men at the time. Bill would hold this rank up until his retirement in 1994 after 33 years of dedicated service to the Cambridge Fire Department.
At the Brudnick Center for Living, Bill is adored by staff and residents alike. To celebrate Bill’s portrait being unveiled, the staff at the Brudnick Center held a tribute in his honor. Featuring a home-made “fire engine” cake, a lively parade and an array of colorful balloons, and his family in attendance via Zoom, the activities team made the day fun and festive. Michelle Ridgley, Bill’s daughter, noted that it was a proud moment for all. “We are incredibly grateful to the Brudnick Center team for everything they did for my father. He felt kindness, appreciation, and love from the entire staff. It was an incredibly special day.”
“Bill is a perfect example of how an individual can still be involved in the community and engaged in the world as a resident in a nursing home,” said Janice Glick, Director of Social Work Services/Case Management at Brudnick Center for Living, which is operated by the nonprofit Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. “He shows us, every day, how to treat people respectfully, how to maintain a positive attitude, and how to age gracefully.”
Along with his work and community contributions, Bill remains deeply committed to his children, granddaughter, and entire family. From baking and delivering delicious chocolate chip cookies to impeccably running a busy station house to rescuing people in need, Bill Ridgley is a shining example of a life well-lived.