Honoring Ridley Wills II
Nearly one hundred distinguished guests gathered under the warm glow of The Hermitage Hotel’s Grand Ballroom on Monday, November 18, 2019, to celebrate one of Nashville’s most important historians and conservationists: Ridley Wills II.
During the special dinner graciously hosted by The Hermitage Hotel’s Molly and Robert Hardie, city leaders, friends, and family members honored Ridley for his contributions throughout the state.
“Some people shape history, and some people write history, and some very special people do both,” said Mayor John Cooper. “Mr. Wills is one of those very special people.”
Ridley is the author of 26 historical and biographical books, including the definitive history of The Hermitage Hotel, titled “The Hermitage at One Hundred: Nashville’s First Million-Dollar Hotel.” As a Board Member Emeritus of The Land Trust for Tennessee, Ridley also played a leading role in bridging the missions of The Land Trust and The Hermitage Hotel through a dynamic partnership that has led to the conservation of thousands of acres across the state.
“The partnership between The Land Trust for Tennessee and The Hermitage Hotel is one of the more perfect unions of two organizations coming together for a common good,” said The Hermitage Hotel Chairman & CEO Robert Hardie. “Thank you, Ridley.”
Liz McLaurin, President & CEO of The Land Trust for Tennessee, remarked it felt serendipitous that the event was held on the same day The Land Trust completed its 400th conservation project.
“How fitting that we would hit a historic milestone today by conserving land in Williamson County – the place where we began our work – on a day we’re celebrating Ridley, at this hotel that has provided sustenance and friendship to The Land Trust for over ten years,” McLaurin said.
The evening’s dinner was prepared by Chef Derek Brooks of the Capitol Grille with much of the produce grown by The Hermitage Hotel at the hotel-managed garden at The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Glen Leven Farm.
The event was also made possible by an Honorary Host Committee, which included Rachel and Gentry Barden, Mary and Hank Brockman, Jr., Sara J. Finley, Kay and Roderick Heller, Jeanie Nelson and Will Martin, Libby and Ben Page, and Betsy and Ridley Wills III.
Many members of the Wills family were in attendance, including Ridley’s granddaughter, Jessie Wills, who introduced the guest of honor with a heartfelt tribute.
“My grandfather’s efforts in the preservation of nature, history, and family are evident in his everyday life: he is always willing to learn more and do more,” said Jessie Wills. “I am proud to carry on a fraction of the traits that my grandfather possesses.”
Since The Hermitage Hotel began its visionary Guest Giving Program, started in part thanks to Ridley’s leadership, hotel guests have contributed nearly one million dollars to The Land Trust for Tennessee. Ridley Wills II closed the evening by addressing his many friends and family in the crowd, and thanking the hotel for its indelible impact.
“I’m grateful for what you do individually and collectively for this city,” Ridley said. “And to Molly and Robert Hardie and The Hermitage Hotel, thank you again for what you have done to help The Land Trust.”
Proceeds from the evening will benefit The Land Trust for Tennessee’s conservation work across the state.
All photos by Peyton Hoge.