Paul Ridgeway helped coordinate a Soviet president’s visit to the Twin Cities, orchestrated political events and coordinated transportation for Super Bowls around the country — after showing up to a planning meeting in Minnesota on a dog sled.
“He was Minnesota’s P.T. Barnum,” said Kevin Foley, a close friend and fellow events planner.
Ridgeway, 68, of Plymouth, died Saturday of complications from open heart surgery, said his wife, Roz. He will be remembered as an audacious special events impresario whose high-energy jobs ranged all over the social and political spectrum.
He orchestrated then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to the Twin Cities in 1990. His career also included events planning and advance work for President Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in his unsuccessful presidential campaign bid in 1984. Ridgeway organized a large anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C., and, over the years, worked for Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson and businessman Curt Carlson of Carlson Companies.
“He was a dear friend of mine,” Mondale said Tuesday. “He was one of those guys who never stopped.”
But Ridgeway ran into major financial troubles in 2010 when he filed for bankruptcy and had to face angry creditors who accused him of spending money lavishly on his family at their expense. Ridgeway apologized at a hearing, telling them, “We lost everything.”
“He always felt terrible about it,” said Larry Redmond, a political consultant and friend.
Ridgeway’s religious faith was a defining feature in the final two decades of his life as he grew more socially and ideologically conservative, Redmond said.
“Yet I never saw a change in his basic values, in the way he behaved toward people,” Redmond said.
In the past five years, Ridgeway had an afternoon Christian radio talk show on KKMS 980 AM, said his son, Paul Ridgeway Jr., also of Plymouth. “He was most passionate in telling people about Jesus,” his son said.
Born in Minneapolis, Ridgeway went on to graduate from Richfield High School and earn a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University. Roz Ridgeway said they met in college and were married in 1973.
“He really enjoyed politics and being part of everything,” she said. “He was a high energy guy.”
Ridgeway was the campaign manager for Steve Wenzel, a college classmate and former DFL state representative from Little Falls.
“He was a sort of political Pied Piper,” said Wenzel. “He could perform political miracles. He could create crowds which otherwise wouldn’t have existed.”
And Ridgeway knew how to make an impression.
As Minneapolis prepared to host the 1992 Super Bowl, the host committee assigned Ridgeway to coordinate transportation amid fears that a snowstorm might tie up traffic.
Jim Steeg, former senior vice president for special events for the NFL, first met Ridgeway months before the game when Ridgeway arrived at a local planning meeting riding on a dog sled.
“I said, ‘Anybody who could do this, I don’t have to worry about the weather,’ ” Steeg said.
There was no storm, and Steeg hired him to coordinate transportation for Super Bowls around the country for the next decade. “He was a total details guy who never got rattled, never lost his cool,” Steeg said.
In addition to his wife and son, Ridgeway is also survived by a daughter, Christina M. Ridgeway, of Plymouth, and two grandchildren.
A funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at Plymouth Covenant Church, 4300 Vicksburg Lane in Plymouth, with a reviewal at the church 5-7 p.m. Monday and 9-10 a.m. Tuesday.