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The Honorable Thomas J. Ridge - Biography

Governor Tom Ridge (former)The Honorable Thomas J. Ridge
Honorary Co-Chair

Tom Ridge became the nation's first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on January 24, 2003. The creation of the country's 15th Cabinet Department marked the largest reorganization of government since the Truman administration and another call to service for the former soldier, Congressman and Governor of Pennsylvania.

During his tenure, Secretary Ridge worked with more than 180,000-plus employees from a combined 22 agencies to create a border-centric agency that facilitated the flow of people and goods, institute layered security at air, land and seaports, developed a unified national response and recovery plan, improved the sharing of information nationwide, protected critical infrastructure and developed and integrated technology to further secure the country. Tom Ridge served as Secretary of this historic and critical endeavor until February 1, 2005.

On October 8, 2001, prior to being Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge served as the first Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. Following the tragic events of September 11th, President Bush asked then-Governor Ridge to come to Washington to develop and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to strengthen protections against terrorist threats and attacks in the United States. His first duties included standing up the Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council.

In recognizing Secretary Ridge for his service as the nation's first Homeland Security Advisor and first Secretary of Homeland Security, President Bush said of Tom Ridge: "In the fight against terrorism, he has played a vital role in protecting the American people from a real and ongoing threat. …He is a long-time friend, and I thank him for his leadership and dedicated service to our country. America is safer and our government is better able to protect our people because of his hard work."

Before the events of September 11th, Tom Ridge was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania. He served as the state's 43rd governor from 1995 to 2001. Known for his commitment to high standards and results, Governor Ridge delivered on his promise to make Pennsylvania "a leader among states and a competitor among nations." Governor Ridge's aggressive technology strategy helped fuel the state's advances in economic development, education, health care and the environment.

Governor Ridge cut taxes every year he was in office. He created industry-led Greenhouse initiatives in advanced computing technologies and the life sciences and signed into law the Education Empowerment Act, to help more than a quarter-million children in Pennsylvania's lowest-performing schools. His education technology initiatives brought anytime, anywhere learning to Pennsylvanians from pre-school to adult education.

During his years in the Governor's office the number of children receiving free or low-cost health care through Pennsylvania's nationally recognized Children's Health Insurance Program rose by 145 percent.  Additionally, Governor Ridge's Land Recycling Program became a national model. He won passage of "Growing Greener," to make Pennsylvania's largest environmental investment ever, nearly $650 million.

Born August 26, 1945, in Pittsburgh's Steel Valley, Governor Ridge was raised in a working-class family in veterans' public housing in Erie. He earned a scholarship to Harvard, graduating with honors in 1967. After his first year at The Dickinson School of Law, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star for Valor, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

After returning to Pennsylvania, he earned his law degree and was in private practice before becoming assistant district attorney in Erie County.

Tom Ridge was elected to Congress in 1982. He was the first enlisted Vietnam combat veteran elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was overwhelmingly re-elected by Pennsylvania voters five times. Throughout his political career, Tom Ridge has never lost an election.

After more than 25 years in public service, the Governor is now consulting on security and risk-related matters, exploring business opportunities and serving on several public and private boards.  His work in the nonprofit area includes the Council for Competitiveness, the Center for Excellence in Government and the National Organization on Disability.  He has maintained his interests in matters concerning veterans and, along with Gen. Tommy Franks, serves as national co-chairman of the Flight 93 Memorial.

Throughout his public and private sector career, Governor Ridge has received numerous awards, including the American Bar Association's John Marshall Award, the National Guard's Harry S. Truman Award, the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation's Conservationist of the Year Award, U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce's Good Neighbor Award, the American Cancer Society's prestigious National Medal of Honor, the Champion of Public Television Award, the Intrepid Freedom Award, the Esperanza Leadership Award and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award, the highest honor given by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Governor Ridge has also been awarded honorary degrees and other awards from Carnegie-Mellon University, Bucknell University, Lafayette College, Elizabethtown College, The University of Utah and other universities and colleges.

Governor Ridge and his wife, Michele, the former executive director of the Erie County Library system, reside in Washington, D.C., and have two children, Lesley and Tommy.