“Neil was a guiding light. A true inspiration.” Don West spoke reverently of his late friend on an afternoon phone call earlier this year, weeks after he succumbed to illness on February 28, 2023, in Westminster, Maryland. According to Don and those who knew him, Neil was a guiding light and an inspiration.
Cornelius “Neil” Ridgely was born October 3, 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent most of his adult life working tirelessly to improve the lives of those around him. He had an unwavering dedication to the environment, trees, gardening, and forestry, which left an indelible mark on his hometown in Carroll County and beyond.
“Neil was a very interesting man. I knew him for 15 years, but I only found out about the extent to which he dedicated himself to his community after his passing,” said West, who also serves as the executor to Ridgely’s will. “Our paths crossed initially over several community projects in Carroll County. I knew that he was dedicated, but I really had no idea.” West believed this to be a testament to his humility and modesty.
Ridgely was actively engaged with the Westminster Tree Commission, Carroll County Arts Council, Carroll County Democratic Party, Finksburg Planning and Citizens’ Council, Waste Not! Carroll, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, 1000 Friends of Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Evident in his involvement in these various organizations, Neil was a true lover of nature and animals, a passion he shared with his wife of 48 years, Debbie, who preceded him in death in 2017. After Debbie’s passing, he found solace and companionship with a devoted partner, and their life together was a testament to their love and resilience in the face of loss.
Neil’s involvement in local politics, including running for office, showcased his determination to make a difference in his community. As the sustainability coordinator for Carroll County, he was instrumental in developing a sustainability plan that turned his thoughts into actions, leading to lasting positive changes in the community.
Neil’s list of accomplishments was awe-inspiring. He played a pivotal role in starting a local community action group and was key in building the Finksburg Branch of the Carroll County Public Library, making it the most progressive in the area in terms of sustainability. His efforts secured funding, development, and effective management of various projects in Carroll County and beyond.
One such moment was during a crucial meeting with all the county directors in the wake of the Obama administration’s stimulus package for local governments. Amidst heated discussions on how to best utilize the funds, Neil commanded the attention of the group. His presence, attention detail, and leadership helped formulate a direct plan that became the blueprint for the county’s actions.
Neil’s enduring local legacy includes a self-perpetuating loan program that helps homeowners perform green upgrades to their homes—a successful public-private partnership that continues to impact lives positively.
Scenic America held a special place in Neil’s heart, along with our mission to preserve the scenic beauty and natural character of the country. Neil’s legacy in scenic conservation is one of passion and advocacy, particularly in his fervent anti-billboard efforts. He championed tirelessly to have billboards removed and to preserve the scenic character of Maryland and its surrounding areas. Additionally, Neil’s love for driving and scenic byways reflected his desire to appreciate and protect the beauty around him.
Before passing, Neil ensured that his interests would continue to be supported by the organization by placing Scenic America in his will. As a tribute to this incredibly generous act, to Mr. Ridgely and to his incredible life, which was filled with purpose, passion, and unwavering determination for conservation, we are proud to recognize him as the founding member of the Scenic America Planned Giving Society.
We are also working with the Carroll County Public Library system to rename the Finksburg Branch, of which he was so instrumental in the establishment, in his enduring honor. More information will be released later this year, upon meeting of the library’s Board of Directors.
In Neil’s life and legacy, we see the embodiment of persistence and dedication. He played the long game, never losing sight of the prize, and worked tirelessly long after others might have given up. His life taught us the importance of showing up and being persistent in our pursuits.
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Learn more about the Scenic America Planned Giving Society, see sample legal language, and hear from individuals who have established an enduring gift to Scenic America.Planned Giving