105-year-old Edwin is one of Northern Ireland’s oldest men

Edwin Ridgwell.
Edwin Ridgwell.

At 105-years Edwin Ridgwell is no doubt one of the oldest men in Northern Ireland.

Born in June 1913, Edwin was the first person to take up residence at Knockagh Rise Nursing Home in Greenisland - at the age of 101-years.

Edwin worked his passage to Canada on a cattle boat.

Edwin worked his passage to Canada on a cattle boat.

Previously, he lived in Blackstone Cottage, at Bryantang, on the Upper Woodburn Road and served as an elder in the Carrickfergus congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

He and his older sister Constance enjoyed what he called an “Edwardian childhood”, being raised by parents Edwin and Dorothea, who were keen Bible readers.

At the end of the war, the family moved to Glasgow where they came in contact with the “Bible Students”, later to be called Jehovah’s Witnesses.

At the age of 15, Edwin was determined to become a missionary. His father suggested he first get some skills to support himself later in life, so he worked in an office for a short time until the whole family decided to embark on preaching work in Scotland. They had many adventures cycling from town to town.

In 1931, Edwin responded to a request for volunteers to go to the Baltic States as mIssionaries. It was a “rewarding time” for him but with many challenges, not least the cold. At times he found that his breath froze on his coat collar.

As World War II loomed, British nationals were advised to leave the Baltic States. Edwin’s family had moved to Northern Ireland where he joined them in 1937.

He married Nellie, the sister of a fellow missionary in 1942. In 1950, they attended a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, where they made many lifelong friendships.

Two years later, the couple moved to Blackstone Cottage, formerly a church, then a school.

They wanted to attend another convention in New York in 1953. To their surprise, one of their friends in New York offered to pay Nellie’s return air fare if Edwin could make his own way to the United States. Edwin worked his passage to Canada on a cattle boat, then to the States, on a cattle train, sleeping on hay bales before meeting up with Nellie in New York.

Edwin became well-known as an industrial safety consultant. He and Nellie were keenly interested in the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul, and spent many holidays travelling in Paul’s footsteps around the Mediterranean.

Edwin’s much-loved sister Connie died in 1988 and ten years later he was heart-broken to lose Nellie after 56 years together.

On the first anniversary of her death, he was “surprised and very comforted” to receive a letter from the Baltic States inviting him to visit the Witnesses there to relate his early experiences.

He was “thrilled” to share his memories with large gatherings in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as with a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Religions at the University of Latvia.

Edwin married again in 2007 to Beryl, who had been a friend to Nellie and himself for many years. Sadly, Beryl passed away in June 2018.

His carers say that he continues to live at Knockagh Rise Nursing Home where he “continues to live comfortably, enjoying good health care and the occasional glass of wine”.

He still receives correspondence and visits from friends at home and abroad, such is his reputation and recognition for his long life of ministry.