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'He Galloped through Life'

School of Medicine

Friends and family of E. Chester (Chip) Ridgway, MD, MACP, gathered Friday afternoon at the School of Medicine to pay tribute to a man whose work as a physician, researcher and teacher is recognized around the world and whose life was devoted to his children, his family’s Wyoming ranch and the fellows and colleagues he mentored throughout his career.

Ridgway, who was the senior associate dean for academic affairs for the past 20 years, died July 31 just a few weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 72 years old.

Dean Richard Krugman, MD, told the hundreds who gathered for the ceremony that Ridgway deserves great credit for the School’s successful move to the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Much of what we have today is because of his work,” Krugman said. “Much of the credit goes to people like Chip who actually had the fortitude to pay attention the thousands of details that made it happen and got it done years ahead of the plan.

“When academic administration is done well, it is invisible. He was a critical part of our infrastructure here and we will miss him an enormous amount, a great deal.”

Ridgway succeeded because he focused on the people around him and that included the attention he gave to his children, Krugman said.

“His stature in the world of academic medicine is only superceded by his devotion to his family and friends,” Krugman said.

“He was passionate about furthering the science of endocrinology, about teaching, and also about putting Colorado on the map as a top medical institution; this you all know,” said his daughter Emily Ridgway, MD. “But I also want to tell you that he was equally immersed and devoted to his role as a father and as a family member and as a patriarch of his extended family.  Dad was larger than life as Hap (Chip’s brother) said. Magnetic. He galloped through life.”

She recalled that her father scattered soot by the fireplace and left gifts on the roof of the house one Christmas when she and one of her brothers began to show doubts in the existence of Santa Claus.

“We all know how devoted dad was to his profession and how much it meant for him to be part of the University of Colorado,” she said.  “We grew up with slide carousels on the countertop of his talks, and grant applications or drafts of article submissions on his lap during Broncos games for commercial breaks.”

Before the ceremony began, photos of Ridgway on horseback, hiking in the mountains, cuddling his grandchild and many other scenes flashed on a big screen for the 400 people who gathered in the Education 2 auditorium to see.

The ceremony opened with Dan Bessesen, MD, playing guitar and singing “Tennessee Stud,” a song Ridgway always requested Bessesen and his band Dogs in the Yard sing at end-of-the-year holiday parties that Ridgway hosted.

“His patients adored him,” said Bryan Haugen, MD, head of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism & Diabetes, a position Ridgway held from 1985 until 2007. “He also was great with a personal touch, remembering hobbies, travels and life events of so many of his patients. What a great doctor.”

Emily Ridgway recalled how her father saved letters from patients and another speaker described how Ridgway helped a patient tie her shoes when she was struggling with the task on her way out of the office.

Haugen recalled a paper Ridgway’s research group wrote in collaboration with other scientists and that Ridgway insisted that Haugen be the first author even though Haugen said the paper could rightfully have been called the Ridgway paper.

“It is one small example of his greatest gifts, humility and generosity,” Haugen said.

“I am where I am because of Chip Ridgway,” Haugen said. “I am who I am because of Chip Ridgway. The more I got to know him, I began to realize that in all that academic mentoring he was also teaching us about being good people.”

Paul Ladenson, MD, and Leonard Wartofsky, MD, colleagues from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., traveled to Colorado to pay their respects during the ceremony in the auditorium of Education 2 that was packed with hundreds of friends. Recorded tributes were provided by a longtime friend, Daniel (Stony) Anderson, MD, FACP, and by Frederic Hamilton, who endowed the chair held by Ridgway.

Campus friends and colleagues also spoke.

Paul Bunn, Jr., MD, who like Ridgway is a Distinguished Professor of the University, recalled Ridgway’s competitive spirit in tennis matches in Evergreen, bicycling up Mt. Evans and skiing in Aspen, where Ridgway persevered even though his boot was cutting up his ankle.

“Chip was a tough guy and he pursued excellence in every endeavor,” Bunn said.

“We heard before that Chip was much more than a triple threat,” Bunn said. “For those of you don’t do academic medicine, a triple threat is somebody who is teacher and mentor, an investigator and a leader and an administrator, but I am here to say Chip was a father, friend, he was an athlete and a cowboy as well as a physician, teacher and mentor and investigator.”

James Hill, PhD, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, said he relied on Ridgway for advice.

“People trusted Chip because they knew he had their best interests at heart,” Hill said. “He gave you the best advice for you. I found few people who could take off all their hats – and Chip had a lot of hats – and really give you the best advice for you, but he could.”

The speakers lauded Ridgway for his drive and commitment. Bunn said: “When we came here, this was kind of a small place, but Chip wanted to make it one of the best medical institutions in the world.”

“He loved every day working for this university and this school,” Haugen said.