I was born and raised in and around Washington, DC. I went to elementary and high school locally, graduated from my father’s alma mater, Mt. St. Mary’s in Maryland and finished my formal education with a law degree. My love of the written word has been with me from the time I was a youngster to the present. It was a rare day when I couldn’t find time to read. From the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin to the biographies of lesser known celebrities such as Jim Thorpe, Knute Rockne, General Custer, Michelangelo and Mark Twain I found that their lives and their accomplishments led me to explore history as a living background that gave depth to what is so often presented as a two dimensional catalog of names and dates. After law school I spent a little over a year doing research and writing drafts of legal opinions as a law clerk to an appellate judge in the District. Once I left the government and began my own career as a lawyer I had to write legal papers and briefs most of the time I spent at the office. Professionally, in 1984, I left the law to take on management roles in business although I am still a member in good standing of the District of Columbia Bar and the Bar of the United States Supreme Court.
Throughout my career I have had a wide range of writing experiences. Beginning in college I was feature editor of the school newspaper contributing weekly articles of public interest ranging from the Beatles phenomenon to local culture and news. Throughout my professional career after I left the law I continued to write…in my business but also for third parties. I have ‘ghost written’ dozens of speeches for varying political and business colleagues and find myself, at this point in my life, writing more than ever. I still, after all this time, love the power the ‘right phrase’ gives to one’s written efforts.
Ridgewell’s is the fascinating account of the lives of Charles (Charlie) Ridgewell and Marguerite Cuvillier, two nearly penniless immigrants, one from England and one from France, who sought a new start in America in the first decade of the 20th Century and went on to live the American Dream. The story, as told to the author by Bruce Ellis, a grandson of this extraordinary couple, makes every attempt to be the truest account of the life of an American family and the business that they loved. It begins with their departure from Europe and follows them as they arrive in Washington, meet, marry, begin a family and start a business that, using the principles of absolute honesty, hard work, love of life and family was to become the largest and the most outstanding ‘fine’ caterer in the nation. From their humble beginnings, as a valet to the British Ambassador and a cook at the French Embassy, you will follow them as they take a chance to invest in themselves. They recognized that the world was rapidly changing. The well-to-do and those in power that formerly had large staffs of servants were finding it difficult to hire people willing to take on those traditional roles. And so they started Ridgewell’s Caterers using their town home, with its kitchen for the preparation of food and its basement for storage of the equipment they would need, in upper northwest Washington, DC as their headquarters. Then, relying on the skills they had learned as servants, they offered those same skills to those well-to-do and powerful people when they needed extra staff to entertain. Their customers knew they could rely on Ridgewell’s in everything from a state visit at the White House or State Department by European royalty to a back yard wedding or informal bar-b-q. You will read, as the company became more well-known, about the friendships with Presidents, top political celebrities, movie stars, corporate kingpins to the everyday mother of the bride. Bruce will lay out the “changing of the guard” following the 2nd World War when his father, an only child from rural North Carolina married his mother and took over the reins from Fifi’s father and mother and brought dramatic growth to Ridgewell’s over the next twenty years. You’ll read about Slim’s close friendship with President Truman and the extraordinary affection Slim received from the then richest woman in the world, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Slim and Fifi handed over the controls to Bruce and his identical twin brother, Jeff in the late 60’s after the both had served in the armed forces. These two nearly interchangeable brothers brought a freshness to the company and ushered it into the world where women began to enter the very high corporate ranks and in many ways took the business of ‘fine’ catering that had, for years, been a man’s world of silver chafing dishes and folding chairs to a whole new look of wonderfully flowered patterned table cloths, marvelous baskets spilling breads and rolls onto a table with centerpieces 6 feet high and ‘pirate’ or ‘space travelling’ themed parties for the huge charity balls and fund raisers. Bruce brings the reader along for the spectacular Viet Nam Prisoners of War Dinner held for 1200 guests in a tent on the South Lawn of the Nixon White House. You’ll be a guest at the weddings of people like Goldie Hawn, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver and Liz Taylor and Senator John Warner. Jeff and Bruce did what their father before them did and that was to use the founder’s simple principles for success both in the business and in raising a family as well. They remembered to… act out of kindness, be scrupulously honest, take others seriously and do what you said you would do. All in all you will be brought along on a wonderful walk as seen through the eyes of people who took pride in being servants as they raised their families and grew the business that served Washington’s power brokers through the astonishing changes in the world of the 20th Century. You will follow the three generations as they grew the business from its humble beginnings with just 2 employees and three or four friends to help serve to where it is today with over 200 full time employees and an independent service staff of several thousand. Ridgewell’s Caterer, the company that has served every White House since Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama by adhering to a few simple rules… live every day with a spirit of abiding kindness and generosity towards those many, many people who were the company’s employees, customers and suppliers. Those are THE principles of true success.