Ridgway, Rozanne Lejeanne (1935—)

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Ridgway, Rozanne Lejeanne (1935—)

American diplomat and ambassador. Name variations: Roz Ridgway. Born on August 22, 1935, in St. Paul, Minnesota; daughter of H. Clay Ridgway and Ethel Rozanne (Cote) Ridgway; Hamline University in Minnesota, B.A., 1957; married Theodore (Ted) Deming (an officer in the Coast Guard), in 1983.

Became the first woman to actively participate in a presidential summit, at the Geneva conference between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (November 1985).

After graduating from Hamline University in Minnesota, 21-year-old Rozanne Ridgway entered the Foreign Service in 1957, at a time when women were neither wanted nor welcomed there. Her first assignments took her to Manila and Palermo where she gained experience in personnel and visa issues, but did not move her career forward with any speed. Her mentor George Vest encouraged her to maintain her standards and work hard, a recommendation she took to heart. By 1967, she landed a position as a class 4 political officer in Oslo, Norway, working for Ambassador Margaret Tibbetts . Later, with Tibbetts' encouragement, she accepted a position as desk officer for Ecuador.

During her tenure as desk officer, Ridgway became embroiled in the fishery war, when Ecuador seized 51 American fishing vessels. Washington canceled its aid program as well as foreign military assistance before Ecuador removed the military from power. While still in Ecuador, Ridgway moved to deputy director in the Latin American policy office, where she continued working with fisheries. She considered this a vital learning time, when she honed her writing and analytical skills. While attached to the delegation charged with negotiating tuna agreements with Chile, Ecuador and Peru, Ridgway was christened "Tuna Roz." Upon the completion of this assignment, Ron Spiers, ambassador to the Bahamas, offered her a position in the Bahamas.

Ridgway, who did not accept all assignments presented to her, had the knack of being able to turn down a position without causing animosity. In one situation, an undersecretary offered Ridgway the temporary position of special assistant in access and fisheries affairs. Someone was needed to fill in while a replacement was sought. Ridgway refused the temporary position but suggested herself for the permanent deputy assistant secretary post and got the job. Within a year, her team had rewritten postwar international fisheries laws as they applied to the United States as well as negotiated bilateral fishing treaties with 14 nations. This accomplishment earned her a second informal title, "Lobster Lady of the Bahamas."

Though Ridgway was then offered the post of ambassador at the embassy in Trinidad-Tobago, she had tired of living and working on islands. Instead, she asked for the ambassadorship to Finland, and her request was granted. She saw her mission in Finland as one of facilitating Finnish-American dialogue, which during the Cold War was sometimes strained by Finland's determinedly neutral status. Her diplomacy and tact easily won over Finnish society.

In 1980, Ridgway returned to the United States to work as a counselor in the State Department, one of the most disappointing years in her career. She soon realized that she was there only to fulfill gender diversity requirements. Stuck in a dead-end job with few duties, she was relegated to virtual obscurity until a fisheries problem with the Canadians arose. As Secretary of State Al Haig was preparing for President Ronald Reagan's 1981 Canadian summit in Ottawa, he was told by the Canadian foreign minister that the summit would be a disaster if a commercial fishing conflict over scallops off of George's Island were not resolved. Ridgway was called upon to fix the conflict. Shuttling between Ottawa, Washington and New England, she eventually put forth a solution which was unanimously passed in the Senate.

Ridgway's name was proposed for several positions, but nothing surfaced until she was offered the ambassador's post in East Germany. She agreed, even though she married Captain Theodore Deming, an officer in the Coast Guard, before leaving the States. After the wedding, she headed for East Germany, and Deming remained at his assignment in Alaska.

In February 1985, Secretary George Schultz suggested that Ridgway consider becoming assistant secretary for European and Canadian Affairs. The nomination appeared to be going smoothly until Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina suggested that her loyalty to the Reagan administration was questionable given her earlier service to Democratic President Jimmy Carter. There was considerable wrangling by Helms over situations that had occurred during Ridgway's post in East Germany, and it took the efforts of Senators Charles Mathias, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Claiborne Pell and Joe Biden to finally win the vote. Although her relationship with her new boss, George Schultz, had its rocky moments, they grew to respect one another. Ridgway's experience in this capacity led to her becoming the first woman to actively participate in a presidential summit, when she took part in the November 1985 Geneva conference between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

Given her experience, many thought Ridgway would achieve the personal rank of career ambassador. The number of positions, however, is based on the percentage of career ministers and by the time a position opened, it went to George Vest. On May 22, 1989, Ridgway received the Diplomatic Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy. She retired a month later. At her retirement ceremony, she received the Distinguished Honor Award, her department's highest recognition, and the Wilbur J. Carr Award, given to a career officer for special achievements as an assistant secretary. On Foreign Service Day in 1992, Ridgway received the Director General's Cup, during a ceremony in which she was described as a "brilliant negotiator, a diplomat of uncommon skill and a superior strategist." By 1995, she had become president of the Atlantic Council.


Morin, Ann Miller. Her Excellency: An Oral History of American Women Ambassadors. NY: Twayne, 1995.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland