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Ridder, Eric

Ridder, Eric

(b. 1 July 1918 in Hewlett, New York; d. li July 1996 in Locust Valley, New York), publisher of the Journal of Commerce who expanded that historic newspaper’s influence with its worldwide Commodities News Service and an Olympic gold medalist in sailing (1952) and America’s Cup co-skipper (1964).

Ridder was the third of four children born to Joseph E. Ridder, a newspaper publisher, and Hedwig Schneider, who managed the household. He graduated from Portsmouth Priory in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, then attended Harvard College in 1936 and 1937. He followed his father into the family company, Ridder Publications, which his grandfather Herman Ridder had started in 1892 by acquiring the German-language Staats-Zeitung in New York City. The young Ridder began his professional career as the business manager of a newspaper, the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press. He married Ethelette Tucker in 1939. They had two children. During World War II, Ridder served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific and retired from the reserves as a Colonel.

In 1946 Ridder became the general manager of the Journal of Commerce, a New York City newspaper founded in 1827 that specialized in shipping, trade, and transportation. The Journal had been bought by Ridder Publications in 1926. In 1954 Ridder and Ethelette divorced. He married Madeleine Graham in 1955. They had no children. She died in 1991.

In 1956 Ridder became the publisher of the Journal ofCommerce and was instrumental in extending the newspaper’s influence by starting the Commodities News Service, which could promptly distribute fast-changing business information. His work created a worldwide news reporting organization. In 1974 Ridder Publications merged with Knight Newspapers to become the international communications company Knight Ridder. After Ridder’s retirement from the Journal of Commerce as chief executive officer and publisher in 1985, he served as a director of Knight Ridder until 1996. P. Anthony “Tony” Ridder, CEO of Knight Ridder, said after his cousin’s death later in 1996, “Eric… had printer’s ink in his veins for seventy-eight years.”

Ridder was a prominent yachtsman. He won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. 6-meter class crew in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. In 1964 he set his sights on the America’s Cup by joining the syndicate that raced the 12-meter yacht Constellation. Midway through the trials to select the American defender of the trophy, Ridder recognized that he was not the best helmsman available. He promoted the alternate helmsman, Bob Bavier, to co-skipper. Bavier went on to successfully defend against the English challengers. Ridder accomplished his goal of having his crew win by setting aside his personal ambition of being an America’s Cup helmsman.

During the 1970s and 1980s his two racing yachts—both named Tempest as a wry reference to his wife’s nickname “Teapot”—were familiar sights on the East Coast ocean-racing circuit, a nonprofessional sport. Ridder was known as a quiet and focused skipper who left the organization of crew work to a loyal group of friends who raced with him season after season. Throughout his life he had an analytical nature and an athletic bearing. He was laconic but thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of the sport.

Ridder was instrumental in the creation of the South Street Seaport Museum. In 1967 he joined the board of trustees. The founders of the inchoate nonprofit institution had a narrow window of opportunity to secure a historically significant property on the East River in lower Manhattan before developers could expand the domain of Wall Street skyscrapers. The board accepted Ridder’s offer to be treasurer and lend his efforts to the financial development of what became a prime educational and tourist attraction, consisting of significant sailing ships and exhibits on the maritime heritage of New York City. He was known to have proceeded through a lunch with a potential donor aboard one of the ships while public school children poked their heads through an open skylight above the businessmen’s heads. Ridder believed that the museum was for children and refused to let anyone chase off the young spectators.

After the 1960s Ridder became fascinated with camping in the African bush. He shot game trophies on his early visits and had the heads hung on the walls of his house in suburban Locust Valley, New York. After a few safaris, he was content to go to East Africa each year to live simply, surrounded by the expansive landscape. One story of a visit involved a local hunter who was assisting Ridder. The hunter’s cattle were stolen while he was away from his village, crushing his hopes of marriage. Ridder anonymously bought a replacement herd to facilitate the marriage.

Ridder died of pneumonia at his home in Locust Valley and was buried in the same town. He had been receiving treatment for a malignant tumor in the months before his death.

The printer’s ink in Ridder’s veins was mixed with saltwater. His accomplishments in business, sport, and philanthropy largely revolved around maritime enterprises. His life showed a keen interest in the past as well as the future; on the one hand, he helped preserve the historic waterfront in New York City, and on the other, he moved the Journal of Commerce from print to wire. He favored deeds over self-promotion. He chose his pursuits carefully, built a good team, and then decisively strove to make best use of the resources and people around him. When once asked by a sailor to explain a winning tactic in a sailboat race, Ridder replied with a knowing but unrevealing smile, “Sometimes I just do things I think I should.”

Little has been written about Eric Ridder In A View from the Cockpit: Winning the America’s Cup (1965), Robert N. Bavier, Jr., chronicles the trials and tribulations of the 1964 America’s Cup competition and gives insight into Ridder’s approach to a challenge. The magazine Lookout (Feb.—Mar. 1983) published Ridder’s thoughts on journalism’s role in commerce in his article “Meat and Potatoes Journalism for Decision Makers.” Obituaries are in Media Daily (24 July 1996) and the New York Times (29 July 1996).

Sheila Mccurdy

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