Dr. Robert Wendell Ridley
RIDLEY, Dr. Robert Wendell -- Bob "Doc" Ridley hated to stand still. He was a man that yearned for variety, and he lived his life eager to race from one experience to the next. Born in Grand Junction, Colorado, he was filled with the spirit of a Westerner that instilled in him a boldness and restlessness to make his way in the world on his own terms. He started by courting the girl that worked the soda fountain at the drug store in Grand Junction. Velma Hollyfield resisted his remarkably dazzling and awkward charm offensive for a short while but eventually fell for his bespectacled good-looks and quick wit. After Doc returned from Colorado College in 1949, having pursued a degree in pre-law, he asked for Velma's hand, and the two began their 62-year journey together. Their first stop together as a married couple landed them in Los Angeles, where Doc got his degree in optometry from the Los Angeles College of Optometry in 1952. From there, he joined the Army and served as a medic during the Korean War, stationed at Fort Picket, Virginia and Frankfurt, Germany. 1954 saw the end of his military career and the birth of his first child, Karen. He supported his growing family by joining his father's (Wendell Ridley) optometry practice in Alhambra, California, where he would remain for the next three years. But a calling to higher learning would see him leave the practice to enroll at Los Angeles State University where, by 1957, he had earned his bachelor's in zoology, and a second daughter, Robin, had joined the family. With a bachelor's degree under his belt, he took his young family of four to the Midwest and entered the prestigious University of Chicago Medical School in 1958. He and his family would not only survive the bitter winters of Chicago and intense pressure of medical school for the next four years, Doc and Velma would add Pamela to their brood of children in 1960. After spending a year in an internship at the University of Iowa, the Bluegrass State came calling. Doc served out his residency in ophthalmology at the University of Louisville from 1963-1966. Kentucky would also be the state where the last Ridley child, Richard, was added to the family. It was 1965 and the final count would stand at three girls and one boy. From 1967-1981, Doc moved his family from Louisville, Kentucky, to Grand Junction, Colorado, to Sayre, Pennsylvania, to Canton, Illinois, to Chattanooga, where he joined private practices and plied his trade. He spent some time in his off hours teaching at the Erlanger Hospital School of Nursing in Chattanooga during this time. But, what he was really looking for was a community with a small-town feel that he could call home and where he could start his own thriving practice. In 1981, he found such a place in Tullahoma. It would be the final stop in his long effort to carve out his own successful practice and create a legacy that would outlive him. While he built his practice, he still felt a bit antsy, so he joined the Army Reserve and served in the Medical Unit out of Chattanooga from 1983-1985. Doc was also a longstanding rotating member of the Harton Hospital staff, as well as an enthusiastic contributor to the hospital's health care mission for 29 years. In 1986, he commissioned a building on North Jackson Street across from the high school. Two years later, he brought on Ben Mahan, M.D., to join the practice and found his closest friend in the process, a man Doc would entrust his practice to when he retired in 2011 at age 81. Retirement did not squelch his restlessness. He needed a challenge, so he went back to college and in 2012, he graduated with a bachelor's in accounting from St. Leo University. His surviving family, his four children and seven grandchildren, proudly watched him walk the graduation line with fellow students 60 years his junior. In addition to his many roles throughout his life – student, husband, father, optometrist, veteran, and ophthalmologist -- Doc took the time to participate in local school boards, community theater, the Rotary and the Lions clubs and he was a proud ticketholder of Vanderbilt football and basketball since the early '80s. Doc Ridley passed away on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, taking his inquisitive spirit with him, and leaving behind family, friends and a community better off having known and loved him. A celebration of his life will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Tullahoma Fine Arts Center, 401 S. Jackson St., Tullahoma. In lieu of flowers, donations to Trinity Care Center, 708 1st Ave, Tullahoma, TN 37388 are welcome. Kilgore Funeral Home in charge of arrangements.
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