Ridgway, Rozanne Lejeanne

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Rozanne Lejeanne Ridgway

One of the first women to make a large impact in the United States foreign service, Rozanne Ridgway (born 1935) was chief negotiator for the five historic summit meetings between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s. In this and other diplomacy she excelled at breaking down the barriers between the U.S. and Soviet blocs during the waning years of the Cold War.

Foreign Service Pioneer

Rozanne Lejeanne Ridgway was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on August 22, 1935. She was the daughter of Henry Clay Ridgway and Ethel Rozanne Cote Ridgway. Her father was a gas station attendant, and her mother was a homemaker who raised three children. She grew up in a modest home and worked her way through high school selling Montgomery Ward catalogs. She graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul with a degree in political science and her sights set on a career in the foreign service. Her entering class had six women, and Ridgway was the only one to have a full career within the department.

In 1986, Ridgway, interviewed by Jeff McCrehan for the Christian Science Monitor, reflected on entering the predominantly male United States foreign service in 1957: "… [M]y first years in the service had obstacles in them, but some of them were credibility obstacles. I was 21 years old. I wouldn't have asked me to make major foreign policy decisions, and I think as a young woman who had never lived overseas, I was seen as someone who might not seriously understand all of the meaning of a career in diplomacy." After seven years in the service, Ridgway began to specialize in European political analysis.

Early Diplomatic Successes

In her early career Ridgway was successful in handling such longstanding issues as fishing rights in Brazil, Peru, and the Bahamas. In 1975, Ridgway was named deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries. Her job took her all over the world, and in only 18 months she organized 19 different treaties, including the 200-mile offshore fishing rights treaty.

She also successfully negotiated the return of U.S. citizens from Czechoslovakia, then still a part of the Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc. The plan she used was considered a blueprint for eventually normalizing relations with Cuba.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her ambassador to Finland. She was the first female career officer to be named to a European embassy. In 1980, Ridgway helped coordinate the Human Rights Conference in Madrid and assisted in the creation of policy on Poland, which was beginning its break from Soviet control.

In 1983, she accepted a post as ambassador to West Germany. While serving there for two years she met and became involved with Theodore Deming, a Coast Guard commander who was being sent to an assignment in Alaska. They managed to work things out despite the distances and eventually married.

Negotiator at Summits

During the second term of Ronald Reagan's presidency, Ridgway was lead negotiator for all five of the historic summits between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Officially, her first position was special assistant to the Secretary of State for Negotiations. Next she was named Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Canada. With Ridgway's careful assistance the two leaders negotiated the first significant reductions in nuclear weapons. Their talks ultimately heralded the end of the Cold War.

When President George H. W. Bush's administration removed Ridgway from her post with European affairs, the decision was criticized widely. The Economist, in a May 20, 1989 article, characterized Ridgway as departing "reluctantly" from that post.

After Government Service

When she left government service, Ridgway served as president of the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. from 1989 through 1992. When she spoke to the Women's National Democratic Club on June 18, 1992, she spoke of the importance of defining the global role of the United States, saying: "Prosperity, security, and freedom is the purpose of our foreign policy. There is a world beyond our borders and it goes on with or without us. It's in our interest to take the lead."

In her interview with McCrehan in 1986, Ridgway noted that she had made 15 moves in her 30 years in government service. Asked what traits the State Department should be looking for in diplomats, Ridgway said "I think what State really needs is a group of people broadly educated. I would say [the Foreign Service needs people grounded in] history, economics, and Shakespeare, individuals who have a sense of integrity and principle which is unshakable."

When asked if she had ever had to compromise her own ethics during high-level negotiations, she recalled that there were times "when I have been a participant in deep and very serious discussions as to which course of action our country should follow … when I have found myself centering my preferences around one of those options and the leadership of the government of the time … has chosen another. And was in a position in which I had to carry [the decision] out." She said carrying out those decisions never involved a compromise of ethics or integrity.

Ridgway entered the private business world when she left politics. The boards of directors on which she served after 1992 included the 3 M Corporation, RJR Nabisco, Union Carbide Corporation, Bell Atlantic, Citicorp, Citibank, Emerson Electric Company, and Boeing. She has also served as a trustee at her alma mater, Hamline University, and on the board of directors at the Brookings Institution, the American Academy of Diplomacy, the Council on Ocean Law, Partners for Democratic Change, Catalyst, and the Aspen Institute.

In 1998 Ridgway was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. She also served as a member of the Sara Lee Corporation, the New Perspective Fund, and Emerson Electric Co. after 2002 as well as a trustee for the National Geographic Society, Brookings Institution, and the George C. Marshall Foundation.


Marquis Who's Who of American Women, 19th edition, Reed Reference Publishing, 1995.


Business Journal (Serving Greater Milwaukee), February 27, 2002.

Business Journal (Serving Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun), November 7, 1997.

Christian Science Monitor, November 6, 1986.

The Economist, May 20, 1989; July 7, 1990.

Foreign Affairs, November–December 1995.

PR Newswire, February 26, 2002.

Puget Sound Business Journal, September 3, 1993.

US Department of State Dispatch, April 1, 1991.


"Enrichment Lecture Staff, Ambassador Rozanne Ridgway," Oninoco River Cruise website,http://www.nauticom.net (December 9, 2003).

"Hamline University Commencement Ceremonies set for May 24," Hamline University website,http://www.hamline.edu (December 9, 2003).

"The 1994 George C. Marshall Lecture," City of Vancouver, Washington website,http://www.ci.vancouver.was.us (December 9, 2003).

"U.S. Seeks Ways to Deal with Global Ethnic Conflicts," North Atlantic Treaty Organization website,http://www.fas.org (December 9, 2003).