Now & Then

Mary ‘Jean’ Ridley

Jean remembers one evening decades ago that could have ended very badly. “Back in 1968, we were just getting ready for supper, when a man walked into our home and pointed a rifle at us. I had just returned home to Sheguiandah from my job at Eaton’s. The angry man demanded we hand over our money and our car. We stood in amazement, not believing this was real. ‘Surely this was a trick’!” Jean thought. ‘This couldn’t be happening in Sheguiandah.’

A contemplative Jean in July 2006
A contemplative Jean in July 2006

“Don told him we had no money but he might be able to get some in town. He took Don and little Kim as hostage, then ordered Don to drive them to little Current.” The attacker was in the passenger seat with his rifle pointed at eleven-year-old Kim. He shot one round through the window and reality sunk in like an electric shock.

Jean and Kathy had been told to stay-put but as soon as the car left, they ran for help. “We avoided the main road in case they came back to check on us, which we found out later they did do. We ran to a neighbour who didn’t believe us.” After they managed to convince the neighbour, the police were contacted and were told that Don would likely be at the Centennial Manor where he worked. “We found out later that the police had wasted no time to swing the bridge and prevent an escape.”

Meanwhile, Don had pulled up to the Manor where he was the director. He had bluffed the man to gain some time. He had told him he might find some money at the Manor. The man said he needed to buy more ammunition and gas for his get-away. While Don was in the nursing home, the man held the rifle, hidden with a jacket, against Kim’s head. An unmarked cruiser pulled up beside the car and Officer McLeod, who had been alerted to the kidnapping, sized up the situation. He came closer to the Ridley car, quickly pulled his revolver out and pointed it at the kidnapper’s head. At the same time, ‘savvy’ little Kim pushed the point of the rifle away from her head.

A hike in the Don Valley in the 1940s.
A hike in the Don Valley in the 1940s.

The man was arrested and went to jail for 18 months. It came out later that this attacker was a man who had allegedly injured his girlfriend. He panicked and began to walk along the highway looking for an opportunity to steal a car and money to escape to Toronto. He saw Jean’s car pull off the highway into Sheguiandah and he followed her home. That adventure turned out well for the Ridley family and became a focus of conversation for many years to come.

Jean’s family originated in Ireland. Maternal grandfather O’Donahue was reported to have owned a chunk of Toronto’s Danforth Avenue. Jean recalls her paternal grandfather, John Fred Padley, died at the young age of 39. His wife Rena, ‘Rea’, remarried to an Ashby and inherited a step-daughter.

Jean was born to Fred and Marianne Jean Padley on December 5, 1925. She was named after her mother and weighed in at 13 lbs. “All the babies were over 10 pounds,” Jean attests. “I was told I was a fantastic baby who could be fed and put outside in the carriage on most days, coming in only to be fed and diapered, then put back out again.”

A dapper Don and Jean wearing her new hat on Easter Sunday in the 1940s.
A dapper Don and Jean wearing her new hat on Easter Sunday in the 1940s.

“I loved butter. My mother said she would find me sitting on the sidewalk eating a pound of butter. I would go to the neighbourhood store and charge the butter. When my mother paid the grocer’s bill she noticed all the extra charges and put a stop to it. Apparently a friend’s comment, ‘She is a lovely baby but a little too fat,’ had added incentive to that decision as did Jean’s habit of saying nasty things to people passing by on the sidewalk. “I had no recollection of that. Perhaps they had been asking about my eating all that butter and I had given them a rebuttal. Nevertheless, my little private adventures were ended.” Kathy and her sister Kim had joined their mother for the interview today. Kathy adds, “See you can eat pounds of butter as a child and still live to be 90.”

There were 10 kids in Jean’s family: Audrey, Pearl, Margaret, Edna, Jean, Fred, Les, Norm, Ray and Gary. Jean was the third youngest, born before Ray and Gary. Their father Fred worked in the shipping department of a picture-frame company. On the weekends, the older children and relatives would collect at the family home in Stouffville. “Alternatively, we might drive to Oshawa for a corn roast. The beach at Musselman Lake might be our destination on a sunny Sunday. At that time it was safe to play on the street with our friends. We also helped with the big garden in the back and I was usually responsible for my little brothers.”

The family at their cottage in 1968, about the time of the kidnapping.
The family at their cottage in 1968, about the time of the kidnapping.

The Catholic ‘Holy Name School’ in Toronto was attended by the Padley children after they moved to that big city. The nuns ran the school and Jean has mixed feelings about her time there. “The nuns were very strict so school wasn’t much fun. Lunch was a major undertaking. It took me an hour and a half for lunch; walking home, eating lunch and walking back to school.”

“My brother Norm got the strap once, but he escaped injury through timing and the strategic movement of his hand. The nun hit her own knee and angrily asked him to kneel. He wouldn’t.” Jean doesn’t recall what happened after that. “My favourite subject was arithmetic. In Grade 7 and 8, I loved to sing in the choir too,” Jean attests. “Sadly polio arrived about that time and we lost one student. We sang for him at his funeral.”

After graduating from Grade 13, Jean attended the Eastern Commerce Business School. She took secretarial courses, including typing. “When the war started in 1940, I wanted to join my three brothers in the Armed Forces, but my father forbid this notion.” Instead the young lass joined her sister Marg and helped the war effort with factory work making underwater lamps for ships. “The ships would be able light their way into the harbour. After 1945 the factory retooled and built lamps for industrial or business use.”

“I met Don Earl Ridley when he came to our plant to inspect the lamps we were building. My initial impression was that he was a bit bossy, but he made up for it by being cute. Our first date was a dance held at work. After that he came up with lots of interesting ideas that ranged from just walking along the Danforth to watch people or exploring new places like the Don Valley.” Don knew he had picked the right girl when he arrived at Jean’s home one day and was instantly intrigued seeing her hair in curlers and her feet in rubber boots. This vision established that Jean was a ‘down-to-earth’ kind of gal that he could spend the rest of his life with. He had laughed in appreciation of this charming moment.

Don had to move to North Bay for a year so he could fulfill his promise to a friend to help with his tourist camp. He and Jean would travel back and forth to see each other. Jean would bring her sister and a couple of friends and stay at the camp. “These were happy times for me. I was still carefree and enjoying getting to know more about the man I would marry.”

The couple were wed in Toronto on January 31, stated to be the coldest day in 1948. There were icebergs in the lake that year. Nevertheless, the wedding was warm and congenial. “My brother made a nice speech for our 150 guests and we had a great send-off to our life together. We returned home to change, then hopped on a train headed for North Bay.” By this time Don was working for Procter and Gamble in their sales department.

In Little Current in the 1970's
In Little Current in the 1970’s

Sadly, Jean’s father died later that same year. That was a very emotional time for the young bride. “I took my father’s death very hard. He had been a special person in my life.” After two years, the couple moved to the Sault where Don continued working for the same company. “Kathy was born in Sault St. Marie. Ten days after her birth, we moved to Massey,” Jean explains, with emphasis, apparently not completely comfortable with the timing of this move. Don and a partner had bought Massey Wholesale. The family spent 10 years in Massey. “Our second baby Kim was born in Espanola.” Jean recalls. “There were lots of elderly ladies who loved to babysit. We had many friends to play ‘nickel blackjack’ on weekends, travelling to each other’s homes, and enjoying a light meal. Sometimes we would drive to a show in Espanola or the girls would enjoy a shopping trip in Sudbury.”

In the summer the family would rent a cottage on Whiskey Lake, three hours worth of bad roads, north of Massey. “We spent two weeks there enjoying fishing, swimming and nightly bonfires. Our father would get into his black and white striped ‘jailbird’ pajamas and patrol the beach, looking for people he could entertain.” Friends would go up at the same time so there were always three or four families enjoying each other’s company.

Jean’s mother died in 1960 and that signaled the end of an era for Jean. In 1962, Don, always on the move, decided it was time for a change. The family sold their share of Massey Wholesale and moved to Manitoulin. “Don was always interested in politics so he began to look to municipal governance. He managed grocery stores and ran the ‘Manitoulin Frosted Foods’ locker, a big freezer available to the public for their use. When the Manor opened in 1967, Don became the first administrator and stayed for five years. “He really liked working for the residents; he was really good with them. I remember one resident, a painter, was set up for a yearly trip to McGregor Bay so she could paint,” Jean explains.

“As part of the auxiliary, I used to come three evenings a week to play cards with Manor residents. I knew many of the people there from my job at Eaton’s. It was sad to see them again when their independence was gone, even though they were well-cared for in the home.” Jean was also a member of the hospital auxiliary. This was the time, 1968, when they were kidnapped and their life took a sudden turn, but all ended well.

In the early 1970s, Don began to work for the Department of Northern Affairs. His office was located in central Mindemoya in the building currently occupied by Jake’s. Manitouliners would present with housing issues or look for help to apply for old age security. Don also did a lot of work for the Federal MP Dr. Maurice Foster and the provincial MPPs, John Lane and Mike Brown.

The boardwalk in Providence Bay was built at that time, as was the Red Roof Pavilion in Gore Bay where Larry Lane was the mayor. Don also worked with Mary Lou Fox and Dr. Jack Bailey to make the Ojibway Cultural Foundation become reality. He worked with Rick McCutcheon to get the funding and establish the Information Centre in Little Current. He and John Hodder helped create the NEMI Recreational Centre. “Don had a keen interest in a robust tourist industry. He helped establish the first Trade Fair.” Don was also a member of the Little Current Lions Club, serving as president in the 1960s, and a founding member of the Haweater Weekend.

When Eaton’s closed their catalogue office in 1975, Jean began to work with pharmacist Paul Rowe who opened up the IDA Pharmacy on Water Street. Kim and Kathy knew their mother was well-accepted in her new role when they heard customers say, “Your mum is so nice.” Jean really liked this work too, meeting the public again and fulfilling an important role as assistant to the pharmacist. “One of my tasks was taking lottery tickets to many parts of the Island. I would be in Evansville by 8:30 in the morning and wouldn’t get back to Little Current until about four in the afternoon.” Jean stayed at the pharmacy job until 1985. “This was another rewarding period in my life.”

The opening of the new Eaton's store where Borderline is now in the 1970's
The opening of the new Eaton’s store where Borderline is now in the 1970’s

In 1977, Don, in his 50s, underwent a triple-bypass. He also developed acute leukemia but survived it thanks to Dr. Jack Bailey. “Don had visited several specialists and knew something was not right, but not one of the specialists realized what was wrong. One of them felt he had the flu. Don came home each time with no answers. Dr. Bailey took one look at him and shook his head. He could see there was something seriously wrong.  He arranged for Don to be seen promptly in Toronto where the leukemia was finally diagnosed.

Don underwent chemotherapy and radiation but was given only two days to live. The doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital were amazed when he survived all the treatment and went home again, with the leukemia in remission. They felt his young age had saved him. Don had to return to Toronto for more treatments, six months later and then yearly. He never came out of remission.

“After I retired, I began to concentrate and enjoy cooking more,” Jean offers. “Don joined me in retirement in 1989 but he still volunteered at the Information Centre in Little Current. Don was such a busy man, always looking for new challenges.” His being out for a few hours a day gave Jean some welcome ‘alone time.’ Each November to February, the couple rented a house in Florida. Don loved to walk everywhere.  “Looking back, we moved 17 times since our wedding, including six different places in Little Current.”

Don spent 10 years in remission but died in 1997. It was a difficult time for Jean, who had lost her partner, the man who had made her life special for 40 years. “Don’s presence meant there was never a dull moment. It was difficult to navigate life without his zeal.” Jean moved to Barrie for 10 years to be closer to daughter Kathy, a teacher, and her family. In 2006 she moved back to the Island where Kim was working for Kenjgewin Teg. She lived in Gore Bay at first, then moved to a Mindemoya apartment.

Jean at home in April 2015.
Jean at home in April 2015.

“Looking back, special memories were my marriage to Don and the births of my babies. Kim and Kathy were like little dolls and I loved taking care of them. My mother was there for a month each time, to help me through the changes.” A wonderful time of the year was Christmas when the family got together at one of my sister’s homes. “Today we get together at Kathy or Kim’s home. My grandchildren are Aaron, who lives with special needs in Mindemoya, Scott, an aspiring drummer in Toronto, Ryan in M’Chigeeng, Kevin, a welder in Barrie, Kayla, working at The Expositor in Little Current and Randy, working at Foodland here.” Jean has four great-grandchildren, Ryan’s Ava and Ryley and Kevin’s Carter and Brinley.

“My favourite television show back then was ‘All in the Family.’ We both enjoyed the irony and the puns. My hobbies have been painting, knitting, baking. When asked about her strengths today, Jean smiles, “surviving to almost 90!” Today she enjoys listening to books, and Zoomer radio. People tell me that I have a good sense of humour.” Her children add that she is a good people person and easy to talk to. Her grandchildren often call her to ask for her sage advice. “Scott, 25, will call and talk about anything. He likes to hear me use old phrases and often asks me to repeat them. I find that so rewarding.”

“For Christmas we often visit interesting places, places Don would have loved to see too. For me, this is better than giving gifts.” Last summer Jean went to Muskoka with the girls. “In late August we drove to Gravenhurst and cruised with the Seguin. We froze our butts off but it was a lot of fun. I like the big boats.”

One of Jean’s favourite  paintings that were “inspired by Austin Bateman.”
One of Jean’s favourite paintings that were “inspired by Austin Bateman.

“Today I am in the Sparrow’s Nest in Mindemoya with a few precious possessions. I still have some of my paintings, inspired by Austin Bateman, an excellent painter. I am very content here. I keep up with the news. My daughters and my grandchildren are regular visitors and life is good.” Jean’s eyes sparkle and she smiles. “I still like to eat and sleep like I did when I was a baby.”

“Manitoulin is the most relaxing place anyone could ask for, compared to other places in this world. It was perfect for raising a family without the stress of living in a city. I love to see the big waves crashing on the South Baymouth shore and I enjoy driving from one end of the Island to the other,” Jean articulates, in summary. “I am most proud of my family. There is nothing I would change if I could go back in time. I had loving parents who were a great inspiration to me. If kids have love, they will do well. They will do their own thing but they will be guided by your love more than by your words.”

Jean with their daughters and grandchildren at the cottage.
Jean with their daughters and grandchildren at the cottage.

Jean sees the glass as half full and greets each morning with a smile. “Get up and be happy, don’t carry a grudge,” she adds. “If you start your day with a smile, it goes a long way.” This candid optimism has enriched both her life and all those who are privileged to meet her.