Dr. David Badger remembers The Incredible Mr. Ridley

Jim Ridley, editor of the Nashville Scene, film critic, journalist and MTSU alumnus, passed away on April 8, 2016, after suffering a cardiac event in the Scene offices on March 28. He never regained consciousness. He was 50 years old. Ridley was a native of a Murfreesboro. He completed his studies at Middle Tennessee State University, where he graduated in 1989 with a B.A. in mass communication while also completing an English major.

By Dr. David Badger

Left to right: Pat Embry, former director of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies with Jim Ridley and Dr. David Badger when Ridley was inducted into the College of Media and Entertainment's Wall of Fame in 2015.

Left to right: Pat Embry, former director of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies, with Jim Ridley and Dr. David Badger when Ridley was inducted into the College of Media and Entertainment’s Wall of Fame in 2015.

Jim Ridley was one of the most talented and exuberant students to take classes from me during my 43 years of teaching journalism at universities in Illinois and Tennessee. I met Jim in the mid-’80s when he took Reporting and Editing classes from me at Middle Tennessee State University. His writing skills, as his friends and professors discovered, were terrific – but his editing skills were off the chart. He was a born word-fiddler, in more ways than one: he loved to fiddle and tweak prose of all sorts, pruning verbal baggage, applying first aid to grammatical lapses and obliterating editorial mishaps. At the same time, he played the prose like music: building rhythm, injecting humor, letting words soar.

And he revealed his greatest passion – the movies – when he took my introductory film class the very first time I taught it. I had been a film critic for WPLN for about seven years when I was asked to teach the course. It was a big lecture class, and I had to write out my original (and surely quite stiff) lectures that first semester. Jim rescued me on many an occasion. He sat in the front row, with that wonderfully cheerful smile of his, and answered students’ questions whenever I was stumped.

He knew more about films than I did, and when I took a leave of absence to work on a Ph.D., I asked him if he would step in and fill my regular WPLN time slot on the air. Of course he said yes.

He was already freelancing film reviews to the Scene, and now he brought his gusto to Nashville radio.

As he also went on to garner greater acclaim at the Scene and was promoted up the editorial ladder (sometimes to his great surprise), I occasionally invited him to speak to my Reviewing class at MTSU, and at the same time included some of his Scene stories in an anthology of articles for my Magazine Writing students to read and discuss. He always encouraged my Reviewing students to freelance for the Scene and interviewed and hired a number of outstanding Magazine students to fill internships at the paper.

When he spoke to MTSU students, he was warm, compassionate, funny – and treated them with respect. He was a great listener, was down-to-earth and loved eliciting their opinions about films and directors. He was a journalistic ambassador, you might say, all rolled up in one big and friendly critic, editor, reporter, friend and ally.

Nashville has never had a finer film critic; students at his alma mater have benefited for years from his generosity and advice (the Journalism School awarded Jim a place on the Wall of Fame just last year); and all Nashvillians have enjoyed a golden era of journalistic excellence during the years that the Incredible Mr. Ridley worked his merry literary magic on us all.

Dr. David Badger retired last year after 35 years of teaching journalism and film courses at Middle Tennessee State University.

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Categories: Alumni

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