The average reader has likely never heard of Jim Ridley. That’s, at least in part, by design. Though a gifted writer and editor in his own right, Ridley possessed an uncommon ability to see the talents of others. People often describe mentorship relationships by saying that mentors pull their acolytes up the career ladder with them. In Ridley’s case, it’s more accurate to say that he pulled people up, then lifted them past him.
Ridley began his career in 1989 at the alt-weekly the Nashville Scene as a film critic, eventually rising to be its top editor, a position he held for seven years until his death in 2016, when he was only 50 years old. I worked with him at the Scene from 2007 to 2014. He taught me many things, any number of which I didn't realize were important lessons until after he was gone.
Ridley’s talents as a journalist were widely respected by his peers. Before he joined The New York Times, the late David Carr would single out Ridley’s columns to show his staff at the Washington City Paper as examples of particularly strong writing. Ridley could certainly turn a phrase. “Emir Kusturica’s Underground is, among other things, the first movie about the collapse of the former Yugoslavia that you could recommend wholeheartedly to a Three Stooges fan,” Jim writes in his 1998 review. Later, he adds, “The whole thing is propelled by a frantic Goran Bregovic score that sounds like an army of ducks walking on bicycle horns.”