Dr. Florence Howse Ridley, nicknamed “Fonnie” or “Flossie”, passed away in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on January 16, 2021. And yes, the world grew a little dimmer, but only temporarily as per her hopes.
Florence was born under a wandering star, November 13, 1922, in Murfreesboro, and began her “great adventure” as she would say. She graduated from Randolph-Macon Women’s College (B.A. Latin, Class of ’44 where her classmates dubbed her, “Fonnie”, for her “devil-may-care spirit”) then Vanderbilt University (M.A. 19th Century American Literature, Class of ’52), and finally receiving her PhD in Medieval English Literature from Harvard College (Class of ’57). Upon graduation from Harvard, she drove cross-country in an old Chevrolet with no air-conditioning to begin teaching in the University of California, Los Angeles’ English Department. She was the last of the English faculty to be hired as an instructor. She loved being a part of the early days of UCLA when the Chancellor lived on campus and his faculty dinners often included “a lowly instructor from the English Department”.
A world-renowned expert on Chaucer, Florence traveled extensively throughout America, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Israel lecturing on “The Canterbury Tales”, as well as, Medieval Scots Poetry and Joseph Conrad. She once trekked through the Negev Desert with five colleagues to start an exchange program between UCLA and Israel’s Ben-Gurion University. “Why wouldn’t you’d go?!” she would chuckle.
During her thirty four year career at UCLA, Florence published twenty two works in fifty eight publications in two languages and 1,627 library holdings. Additionally, she was the first woman to chair the Academic Senate and Graduate Council and the first woman to be appointed Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. She was also a founder of UCLA’s Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies and a co-founder of its journal, Comitatus. She served as a board member for many national and international associations. She chose Fulbright scholars to represent the U.S. abroad and helped select recipients of the National Endowment of Humanities grants. However, her most rewarding experience at UCLA was her association with diverse, hard-working students to whom she referred to as “the cream of the crop”. These students honored her with two Distinguished Teaching Awards from the undergraduates and another one from the graduate students.
A self-made philanthropist with a genuine love of people and cultures, Florence made generous donations to the libraries of Randolph-Macon Women’s College and the University of Southern California as well as establishing scholarships at MTSU, UCLA and Vanderbilt University. She also endowed a Chair in the Vanderbilt Law School in memory of her father, Granville S. Ridley, Jr. and mother, Elisabeth Howse Ridley. She was an avid supporter of the Arts and many community organizations and churches. “Do we all not bleed, and want for better opportunity?” as she would say.
Florence was predeceased by her parents, Granville S. Ridley, Jr. and Elisabeth Howse Ridley, and sisters, Mildred Thomas Ridley Stewart and Susan Boardman Ridley and niece Sumner Ridley Green Winkjer. She is survived by nieces, Elisabeth Stewart Delargy, Mildred Florence Stewart Wells and Elisabeth Green Mondala; and nephews, Cameron Ridley Stewart, Jr., George Howse Stewart and John Mack Green. and great-niece, Emma Green Foster and among other cousins, Marilyn White and George White, whose loving care greatly eased her final years. Her numerous cousins, peers, friends and former students will dearly miss her council, wit and especially her smile that reassured, “Everything will be just fine”.
A private graveside service will be held Saturday, January 30, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Rev. Dr. John Hinkle, Jr. will preside. Memorials may be made to the First Presbyterian Church Legacy Fund.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
An online guestbook for the Ridley family is available at www.woodfinchapel.com. Woodfin Memorial Chapel. (615) 893-5151.