PERSPECTIVES WINTER 2016 | RETROSPECTIVE: ‘Education is the Path to a Larger Life’
‘Education is the Path to a Larger Life’
The first report of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence was released in 1985, when Dot Ridings served as the committee’s chair. The Path to a Larger Life was published, according to then-executive director Robert Sexton, “so that the public can get in on the conversation about better schools.”
As a parent and citizen, Ridings knew the challenges and rewards of being involved. She had two sons in the Louisville public school system, one with special needs. She had also, in the mid-1970s, helped shepherd the city’s schools through its greatest education challenge: school desegregation.
Ridings’ successful advocacy for desegregation garnered attention among leaders in education, and in 1979, she was appointed to the Committee on Higher Education in Kentucky’s Future — the forerunner of the Prichard Committee. She accepted the appointment, in part, because she wanted to work with the legendary Edward Prichard.
Yet it quickly became apparent that the potential of the committee was tremendous. “We had all the talents we needed within that group to get a movement started,” Ridings recalls.
Women accounted for only 8 of the committee’s 30 original members, but Ridings believes those women played a crucial role in the group’s potential. Some, like Ridings, were active with the League of Women Voters, and the group agreed to adopt the League’s method of voting by consensus. It was a technique borrowed from the feminist movement, ensuring that each person’s voice would be heard.
“Consensus isn’t easy,” Ridings says, “but I think we achieved it pretty well on almost all the issues.”
She credits the original committee members for their “generous spirits” — former governors and community activists united by a passion for improving educational opportunities for Kentuckians.
Women were the primary family members con- cerned with children’s education, and women’s involvement was, Ridings believes, crucial to the committee’s successful transition from government task force to citizen’s movement. By the time The Path to a Larger Life was published, the Prichard Committee had hosted well-attended town hall meetings on education across the state and the movement had begun.
“A doer in a world of admirers” were the words the Courier-Journal used to describe Dot Ridings in 1986, the year she stepped down as chair of the Prichard Committee and head of the League of Women Voters. As the league’s national president, Ridings’ actions necessarily covered a wide range of issues, from reproductive rights to tax reform to presidential debates. Yet education has always been a personal priority.
“I credit my parents for the emphasis on education,” Ridings says. “That’s how you gave back in the best ways you could to the next generations, and to your communities. I still believe that today. Education is the path to a larger life.”
Dorothy “Dot” Ridings was born in Charleston, W.Va., in 1939. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University and a master’s degree in journalism at the University of North Carolina, and held editorial and reporting positions for The Charlotte Observer and The Washington Post. In 1968, she and her family moved to Louisville where she was an editor at the Kentucky Business Ledger. Later, she worked as a Knight-Ridder general executive based in Charlotte, N.C., and then president and publisher of Knight-Ridder’s Bradenton Herald in Bradenton, Fla.
In Louisville, Ridings became involved in a local chapter of the League of Women Voters and served as national president of the group from 1982-86. She has chaired numerous boards, made speaking tours for the U.S. State Department and led fact-finding delegations sponsored by NATO. In 1996, Ridings joined the Council on Foundations, where she served as president and CEO until her retirement in 2005.
The Retrospectives feature offers longtime Prichard Committee members an opportunity to reflect on the steps that led them to community involvement and, in particular, education advocacy in Kentucky.
This Retrospective of Prichard Committee charter member Dot Ridings, written by Arwen Donahue, is based on an oral history interview conducted with Ridings in 2014. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Oral History Project, a joint project of the Prichard Committee and the University of Kentucky, was established in 2013 to explore and preserve the rich history of the Prichard Committee and its citizen leaders in education. Access the collection at kentuckyoralhistory.org/catalog/xt7hhm52jm4k.