Knox Ridley served as dynamic Smyrna leader

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, November 19, 2018

Knox Ridley on the left, Sam Ridley on the right.

Knox Ridley and his twin brother, Sam, served Smyrna as progressive mayors over a 50-year time frame.

Knox Ridley, an exceptional man, was a member of the dynasty that molded Smyrna into the progressive city we have today.  Knox was our Smyrna mayor and could always remember people by name.  If I saw him at the grocery store, Knox would smile and say hello, as well as call me by my name.

Earl Coleman, a close childhood comrade, worked with Knox in business for many years.  At the end of Knox’s life, he would refer to Coleman as his best friend ever.

Knox was also a friend to my grandmother, Emily Johns, who often went riding with both Sam and Knox in high school.  The brothers moved down these old country roads way too fast and were full of big fun.  Knox and Sam would maneuver their Model T up and down Rock Springs Road in their youth and were self taught in special driving skills.

At Smyrna High, the brothers weighed a slim 108 pounds each.  Nonetheless, they both played offense and defense on the 1938 football team and were front and center on the field.

Knox was born on June 23, 1919, to William Crawford Knox and Mary Young Ridley.  He carried his grandfather’s name (Knox) proudly.

Knox Sr. was born in 1851 and married Sallie Crockett in 1874.  Sallie’s ancestry was from both Ireland and Scotland.

Knox’s father, Will, was one of 12 siblings.  He was city judge in Smyrna and also drove a school bus for 60 years.  Will was well loved by students.  Mary graduated from Tennessee College for Women and taught at Smyrna Elementary in later years.  Will and Mary lived on Ridley Street in retirement.

Knox’s identical twin, John Sam Ridley, appeared as indistinguishable to Knox, and few could tell them apart.  Paul Johns, vice mayor under Knox, recalls their resemblance as remarkable.  Knox had a small facial scar. Otherwise, one could not be sure whom they were talking to.

Knox would tell the story of changing places with Sam when dating without telling anyone.  The twins often dressed alike in blue blazers and gray slacks.

Their older brother was Will Gibson Ridley, and sisters were Leta Jane (Kellum) and Evalie (Breeding). Knox’s brother-in-law Bob Breeding was active in politics in White County and served five terms as mayor of Sparta.

Knox attended Cumberland University after graduating Smyrna High and was drafted into the Air Force (1941) at age 22, serving as a communication officer under Gen. Carl Spaatz in War II.  Knox attended the Code and Decipher School at Oxford to gain knowledge in this pivotal role in the war.  He had active duty for three years in both Europe and North Africa and returned home as lieutenant with a Bronze Star.

Knox married Marie Miller in 1953, and she was his right arm for 57 years.  Their three sons were Knox and twins Thomas and William, all raised on Gwynne Street.  Knox III presently lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, while his brother Will resides in Waynesboro, Virginia.

Knox was known for a positive attitude, always looking on the bright side of every issue, and he was very generous.  He was a partner to Sam for a lifetime, and they worked closely together on successful ventures.

The brothers founded Klassic Kleaners, Ridley Chevrolet and Smyrna Insurance Agency.  Knox owned the Ben Franklin Five and Dime in town.  Lee Victory purchased his home on Enon Springs from the twins. The brothers also were developers in the very first residential subdivision in Smyrna, Meadowbrook.

Knox was the man about town and active in politics, business and civic organizations.  He served as county and city judge, mayor, city coordinator (1975-1983) and city engineer.  He was a charter member of Smyrna Rotary Club and the oldest member of First Baptist, where his parents had been founding members.  Knox was the innovative creator of Smyrna Library, along with Katherine Walkup.  Knox told Miss Katherine “we can do this,” and they did the endeavor very well.

The brothers knew how to have good, clean fun and often frequented their cabins at Jefferson Springs.  The big gatherings at the Denny Dance Hall on Saturday nights were legendary and thoroughly enjoyed by the twins.

After Sam Ridley, namesake for our burgeoning Sam Ridley Parkway, served 14 consecutive terms as mayor over 40 years, Knox would then have his turn in this position, stating “I need five more feet to fill his shoes.”

Knox moved on to a powerful and prosperous term as mayor through 1993.

Knox Ridley passed away on Aug. 6, 2010, at 91 years old as an honorable man to the end of his life.  He is buried in Mapleview Cemetery near beloved relatives, including his grandfather Knox Sr. (1936) and great-grandmother Mary Jane Ridley, who passed away in 1876.

When Knox was 16 years old in 1935, there were 500 residents in our town.  He would have never envisioned a population of more than 40,000 in our present-day city of Smyrna.

Knox’s obituary states he was missed by his loyal dog Teka.  Yet, Teka learned loyalty from the master, Knox Ridley.

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