There haven’t been many times in the history of this city when someone hasn’t answered to the name of Dr. Ridley.
In the beginning, it was Charles Lewis Ridley Sr., one of Macon’s first doctors. The long line of stethoscopes has stretched through five generations to Charles Lewis “Chip” Ridley … a chip off the old doc.
Chip Ridley often places a “III” at the end of his signature, but he’s actually Charles Lewis Ridley V. His grandfather, who served as superintendent of the old Macon Hospital, switched and simplified all those Roman numerals when he started going by “Sr.”
So Chip, who will turn 70 in March, was bumped up on the numerical ladder by default.
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When he retired from his family practice on Ingleside Avenue this past week, it marked the first time in almost two centuries there hasn’t been a Ridley practicing medicine in Middle Georgia. There was a small gap after the Civil War, but the family tree is filled with those who have taken the oath of Hippocrates and treated everything from the chicken pox to the flu, patched wounds and mended broken bones.
Thursday marked the end of what has been of an emotional few months in the small house down the hill from Ingleside Village. Chip’s wife, Cathy, has worked at his side for much of his medical career. And office manager Debbie Elkins has been with the Ridleys for 25 of the 30 years they have been back in Macon.
For weeks, patients have been stopping by with the usual aches, pains and sniffles. Others dropped in to shake his hand, hug his neck and say good-bye. They have told stories about his grandfather bringing them into this world. Or that his father took out their gall bladders and stitched them back together.
They have been on Chip’s watch for almost a generation, becoming like family members and kindred spirits.
”We’ve had tears almost every day,” Cathy said.
One woman brought by a hand-sewn quilt she made. A thank-you note was stitched into a panel of fabric.
“They love him because he talks to them and listens to him,” Cathy said.
At a time when patients often are treated as names and numbers on medical charts and insurance cards, Chip is a throwback to the days of gentle bedside manner.
“Doctors don’t have as much time to spend with everybody, and you lose a lot of the art of medicine right there,” he said.
The script never would have been written had the first Charles Lewis Ridley not taken a serendipitous detour on his way from North Carolina to LaGrange to join his brother’s medical practice.
When he stopped in Middle Georgia, he fell in love with a woman and married her. They settled in the small community of Cornucopia, in the northeast corner of Jones County, and later moved to Macon, where he was one of the earliest practicing physicians.
One of his sons, James Bromfield Ridley, became a doctor after graduating from a medical college in New York City. At the beginning of the War Between the States, he was sent with the Confederate troops to Savannah, where he contracted typhoid fever and died.
Chip’s grandfather practiced medicine in the Jasper County community of Hillsboro until the 1920s. After losing his eye in a hunting accident, he went into public health administration and moved his family to Macon. He served as a state senator in the early 1930s, and his portrait was once at the state capitol building in Atlanta. He was superintendent of the Macon Hospital back in the days when doctors ran the hospital.
“I admired my grandfather,” Chip said. “He was a character, a great guy who was well thought of by everyone. He did so much for Macon.”
Said Cathy: “He signed every baby’s birth certificate. So, under my little footprints, is the name Charles Lewis Ridley.”
Sixteen years later, she began dating his grandson, who carries the same name, and they became high school sweethearts. Cathy attended Miller High for Girls, and Chip went to Lanier until the opening of the new Mark Smith, where he was in the first graduating class.
Chip’s father was a surgeon whose practice was located on Pine Street and later at Coliseum Hospital. Chip was a small-town doctor in McRae for three years before returning to Macon. His medical office was located at the Coliseum before moving to his Ingleside office 19 years ago.
He and Cathy have been married for 48 years. They have four children and 10 grandchildren. One of their sons, Alec, is a physician practicing in Denver.
Some day, they hope he will return to his hometown to practice medicine, and the Ridley local legacy will live on.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.