Obituaries: John Ridgers

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The Independent Culture
JOHN RIDGERS joined Lloyd's of London in 1928 and spent his entire working life in what has remained the world's leading insurance and reinsurance market. That was a historic year for the society and saw the enterprise move into its own building for the first time, in Leadenhall Street in the City of London.

Ridgers became an underwriting member in 1932 and went on to serve on the Lloyd's Committee, then its ruling body, from 1957 to 1960 and 1962 to 1965. This coincided with a period of significant expansion, making necessary first the purchase of an adjacent site, then forcing a second move, to Lime Street, in 1958. In 1963 Ridgers was elected Lloyd's Chairman, later serving as Deputy Chairman of Lloyd's Register of Shipping, and for 10 years from 1974 as director of the salvage company Smit International.

Ridgers was born in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, in 1910, the only son of Sharpe Ridgers, a Lloyd's underwriter. John Ridgers's grandfather had also derived a living from shipping, captaining the clippers which plied between London and Australia. Ridgers was educated first at the uninspiringly named prep school Dumpton, then at Wellington College.

He excelled at racquet games, including the game of Racquets, at which he was rated Wellington number one. He also played squash for Kent and England in the early 1930s. One of the few Wellingtonians not to enter the Army, he joined Lloyd's aged 18, with his father's marine underwriting syndicate, Cotesworth.

In 1936 he married Barbara Cobb, and, for all his achievements in the City and in sport, his first priority was his family. He was a gifted and inspired pianist, and would play each evening as the children went to bed. The sound of his piano playing became closely linked in his children's minds with the smell of "cabbage water". An obligatory glass of this - a phenomenon which all but disappeared with that generation - was also a regular part of their bedtime routine.

Ridgers led from the front, but not by relying on a forceful personality. The confidence of his colleagues was won by his values, his convictions, and his sheer consistency. At the root of these lay a strong Christian faith. He was as comfortable in helping with domestic chores as he was in chairing a board meeting. Asked what made a happy marriage, he replied, "Always play second fiddle, and I believe the orchestral music will go on for ever."

He served for several years as churchwarden of the village church at Seal, near Sevenoaks, then in retirement moved back into Sevenoaks itself, and joined St Nicholas, the medieval parish church to which his son-in- law had been appointed rector. It was a critical moment in the building's history. Plans for extension had twice been called in for inquiry in the early 1980s by Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for the Environment. Now an ambitious plan was put forward to build underneath the church, though to go below a medieval structure had no precedent.

Long-time Sevenoaks residents were sceptical. But Ridgers was a shrewd judge of situations; he became a strong supporter of the project and investigated charitable funding. The building was reopened, a great architectural feat, in 1995.

Throughout his retirement Ridgers derived great enjoyment from his 17 grandchildren, and from snooker and woodwork.

John Nalton Sharpe Ridgers, businessman: born Buckhurst Hill, Essex 10 June 1910; Deputy Chairman, Lloyd's of London 1962, Chairman 1963; married 1936 Barbara Cobb (five daughters); died Sevenoaks, Kent 31 July 1999.

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