Santa Clara Magazine is published in print for alumni and friends of the University. It is updated weekly on the web.
Constance "Connie" M. Ridder J.D. ’85 died at her Pebble Beach home on August 5, 2011 surrounded by family. She was 70 and had battled intestinal cancer. "She was the voice of reason," said her husband, P. Anthony Ridder, former Knight Ridder Chief Executive and SCU Board of Trustees member, as well as the 1986 recipient of an SCU honorary degree. "I could talk things through with her, and her judgment about situations was always very mature. With some people in life, you never know what you’re getting on a certain day. With Connie, everything was very even-keel." Constance Louise Meach Ridder was born in Charlotte, Mich., the second of three children. She was raised in Traverse City, Mich., where her father was a small-business man who at one time owned a boat store before buying a dry-leaning shop, where her mother also worked. It was a traditional Midwestern family with solid values—something that would serve her well during a life that would become more privileged than most, but was marked by a sense of frugality and a no-nonsense work ethic that aided her transformation into an accomplished attorney, dedicated golfer and passionate gardener. From an early age, she also reveled in competitive sports, including skiing—she was Central U.S. Ski Champion in 1957—as well as tennis and golf. At one time she posted an 11 handicap. She met Tony Ridder while both were enrolled in the same philosophy course at the University of Michigan. They were married during their junior year after a short engagement. "She was smart and fun, and we just fell in love," said her husband, who recalled telling her with a smile, "Stick with me; you’ll go places." While she interrupted her studies to get married, Tony Ridder continued on, graduating from the university in preparation for a career in his family’s newspaper chain. After stints at Ridder newspapers in Aberdeen, S.D., and Pasadena, the couple moved in 1964 to San Jose, where Tony Ridder worked his way up to publisher at the Mercury News. In 1986, after he was named president of the newspaper division of Knight Ridder, the couple left for the company’s headquarters in Miami. In 1995, he became chairman and CEO of Knight Ridder. In 2006, part of the chain, including the Mercury News, was purchased by its current owner, MediaNews. But it was while living in Saratoga, where they were raising their four children, that Connie Ridder decided she wanted to do something more with her life, starting with earning her college diploma. "She was always a person who felt like she wanted to work and earn what she had," said her best friend, Sally Lucas. In 1977, she began at West Valley College, earning straight A’s. She then enrolled at Stanford University for three years, graduating with a degree in political science. Wondering what she should do next, her husband—who had once been interested in attending law school himself—suggested she apply."I told her that way I could vicariously go to law school," he recalled. During a four-year program at Santa Clara University, her family said, she was determined to balance her responsibilities as a wife and mother—even if it meant sitting on the bleachers during her son Par’s football practices reading law books, Par Ridder recalled. "She was still very much our mother. That was always her priority," said daughter Susie Ridder, who also earned a law degree at SCU. "Tony and her family were the love of her life—that’s what really meant everything to her," Lucas said. In many ways, Connie Ridder’s goals coincided well with her move to Miami. By that time, her children were mostly grown. And being in a new city where she at first knew few people, she could focus on her career, initially as a corporate attorney, and then as a trust and estate attorney. The training was tough, but she was conscientious, refusing to bill clients for the total amount of hours she put in until she got up to speed, her family said. "I told her, ‘You’re the only attorney in America who doesn’t bill their clients for the full hours they put in on the job,’" Tony Ridder said. Her goal was to become partner, and by 1992 she did so at the Miami office of Holland & Knight, one of the country’s largest law firms. "She didn’t do anything lightheartedly," said daughter Linda Walker. "She was very tenacious." Over the years, Connie Ridder had taken up golf and, like other endeavors, was determined to master it in her own way, beginning with a set of her husband’s right-handed clubs, even though she was left-handed. The game was a social opportunity, but also a test of her skills against others. "She was a student of golf," said daughter Katie Ridder, who noted that her mother was forever studying magazines and videotapes to improve her game. "She analyzed everything." Not long after returning to the Bay Area with her husband in 1998, she wound down her law career and threw herself into civic activities, serving as the first female president of the governing board at the Filoli Center in Woodside, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and later as a trustee of the Carmel chapter of The Garden Club of America. She was also the longtime head of the Ladies Golf Committee at the Cypress Point Club. "What Connie brought to the board was wisdom coupled with grace," said Jane Risser, Filoli’s executive director, who called her "very strategic," but mindful of Filoli’s culture and the value of its 1,300 volunteers. "She was able to help everyone understand that we had the same shared vision for Filoli, which was to make the institution enjoyable and accessible to the whole public, from young children to people with physical disabilities," Risser said. Her passing, Risser said, is "a tremendous loss for everyone."