Lillian M. Ketcham Ridgely, 88, descendant of colonists

June 18, 1996|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

Lillian M. Ketcham Ridgely, the last person to live on the former Ridgely estate at Hampton National Historical Site in Baltimore County, died Friday of cancer at College Manor nursing home in Lutherville. She was 88.

A descendant of one of the original Massachusetts Bay colonists, she was born in Northport, N.Y., the only child of a prominent New York family.

She graduated from Norwalk (Conn.) High School in 1925 and pursued a degree in nursing. She was in New York studying for her master's degree when she met John Ridgely III, a native of Baltimore, at a ballroom dance.

The couple had a storybook wedding at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York -- on St. Patrick's Day in 1935 -- but were separated by the outbreak of World War II. He joined the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man and was shipped to the Pacific Theater.

Mrs. Ridgely used her training to secure a commission as a nurse in the Women's Army Corps in 1944. As a first lieutenant, she treated wounded soldiers and airmen at Regional Hospital Station, Keesler Field in Mississippi, earning a meritorious service ribbon.

"She was in a unit that handled people who were in really grim shape, badly burned and severely injured," said Robert von Lunz, a godson.

She and her husband were reunited in 1946, after he was discharged from occupation duty on the Japanese mainland and shipped home.

"The first thing he did was drive south to get his wife," said Mr. von Lunz. "For years afterward, they'd talk about their big reunion in Mississippi."

After the war, the couple returned to Maryland and took up residence at "Hampton," as the Ridgely family estate was known.

While her husband pursued sales ventures, Mrs. Ridgely became the overseer of the estate and its imposing Georgian mansion -- one of the largest built in the United States -- with its sweeping lawns and elaborate formal gardens. In a gesture ripe with symbolism, her father-in-law bestowed upon her a huge ring of keys to the dozens of rooms and outbuildings on the estate.

But by 1948, the property, which had been in the Ridgely family since the 1790s, became too great a burden and was sold to the National Park Service. Mrs. Ridgely continued her stewardship of the grounds, establishing the nonprofit Historic Hampton Inc. to ensure it was properly managed by the federal government.

The couple moved into a smaller house on the grounds, dubbed "Spring Hollow," and Mrs. Ridgely began a career as an award-winning horticulturist. A charter member of the Town and Country Club, she produced an early catalog of Maryland flora that became a nationally recognized reference guide for environmental preservation groups.

The couple had no children. Mr. Ridgely died in 1990.

A private burial service was yesterday at Hampton Cemetery.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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