Ann F. Ridgeway has the open, trusting face of someone used to finding the good in people. She is not a career politician and doesn’t act like one. When news broke that her opponent for state delegate, Republican incumbent Nick Freitas, had failed to file his candidacy paperwork on time and wasn’t scheduled to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, she didn’t gloat.
Instead, the Democratic challenger made it clear she was waiting, just like everyone else, to see what would happen. As Freitas made repeated attempts to get on the ballot, she attended to the logistics of her own campaign. High on her to-do list was finding a campaign manager who was the right fit.
A week before Freitas announced he would launch a write-in campaign, when he was still angling for a spot on the ballot, she said, without sarcasm, “Poor Nick. He just messed up. Now he’s having to deal with his mess-up.”
Ridgeway, 67, is a resident of Locust Dale in Madison County and a first-time candidate for political office. The Fredericksburg native is the daughter of Thomas G Faulkner Jr., the rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg for 30 years, and Mary Faulkner, who started the Fredericksburg Interfaith Council. She says social justice was extremely important to her late parents. She speaks with pride of her father’s involvement in civil rights activities at a time when few other white ministers in the area shared his commitment.
The youngest of three children, she graduated from Old Dominion University in 1976 with a degree in psychology. She has spent her career in Orange County, first as a juvenile probation officer and later as a substitute teacher at Orange County High School, often doing long-term duty for several months in one classroom. At the request of the school administration, she went on to revamp the in-school suspension program at the high school.
She also helped start the Orange County Youth Commission and the Orange County Youth Council. Through her involvement with the council, she created a school division-wide festival of the arts and sciences and helped launch the Orange County Recreation Department, among many other projects. She has volunteered with 4-H clubs in Madison and Orange counties and run the Locust Dale Farm Riding program for children at her home.
She and her husband, Michael, have two grown daughters, Sarah and Katherine. Michael is a retired schoolteacher who taught for a year at Prospect Heights Middle School but spent the bulk of his career teaching at various schools in Spotsylvania County.
When Ridgeway speaks of her family life, a heartbreaking story emerges. She and her husband had a third child, who died in a car crash at age 6 in 1997.
Her gaze direct, she says, “I’m a survivor. I’ve got a really thick skin.”
She recalls how her daughters got home one day and said they’d seen a wreck on Route 614; they wanted to know where their father’s car was. Ridgeway was not worried because her husband rarely came home on that road. He was out with his mother and young Michael, and she expected they would be back before long.
Then she got a phone call from the University of Virginia hospital saying her husband and mother-in-law had been admitted for treatment after a car accident. When she asked about her son, the response was, “We don’t know about your son.” It took a call to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for her to find out he had died. A driver had come over a steep rise on Route 614 and hit her husband’s car and pushed it off the road.
It was only fairly recently that Ridgeway began getting involved in local politics. She helped with Democrat Leslie Cockburn’s campaign for representative in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. (Cockburn lost to Republican Denver Riggleman.)
Although she had no political aspirations, her friend Suzanne Long, chair of the 5th District Democratic Committee, encouraged her to run for Freitas’ seat.
The suggestion startled Ridgeway, but she couldn’t put it out of her mind. Her friend Betty Long encouraged her to go for it. As she thought things over, she began having strange experiences that felt spiritual in nature. In a conversation with a minister, she described what she was going through.
He told her, “You’ve had a calling from God.”
Ridgeway responded incredulously, “To run for political office?”
The minister told her God calls people to do all sorts of things.
With that in mind, she consulted Harold Boyd of Culpeper, a friend since childhood who has been involved in Democratic politics for years. She also traveled to Richmond to visit the Virginia State Capitol and the Pocahontas Building, where Freitas’ office is located.
The point of the visit to the capitol, she said, was to ask herself, “How does it feel to get there and be in the belly of the beast?”
It felt OK. Finally, after much reflection, she decided to run for the seat. Her key issues include seeking increased funding for people suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems and helping ensure that Virginia’s citizens have access to affordable healthcare. Her campaign website lists protection of the environment, veterans’ needs, women’s healthcare, education and rural broadband as other focus areas.
She is a gun owner who advocates for gun safety. On her website, she says legislators must set aside their differences and work toward “common-sense gun legislation reform.”
She said that before Freitas became embroiled in the problems created by submitting his paperwork late, she gave herself a 40% chance of winning. Now she sees it as more like 50/50.
Acknowledging that the race is an “uphill battle” in a district that has traditionally favored Republicans, she said, “I’m happy to trudge up that hill. It’s not a problem.”