Obituary: Leah Michelle Ridgway

November 28, 1963-January 2, 2018

Michelle Ridgway and Attu Photo courtesy of the Ridgway family

Leah Michelle Ridgway, Michelle or Mish to her friends and family, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 28, 1963. Following a one-vehicle accident out the road in her hometown of Juneau, she was medevaced to Harborview Trauma Hospital in Seattle, WA, where she passed away om Jan. 2, 2018. She was surrounded by friends and family at the time of her death.

The family moved to Ketchikan in 1969 where Michelle attended White Cliff School.

The family moved to Anchorage in 1976 where she attended San Lake Elementary, then graduated from Dimond High School.

She attended Evergreen College (BS) in Olympia, WA., in addition to the University of Kobe (Japan), University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Washington, and many others.

Michelle was … well, awesome.

She owned her own submarine … let’s just start there.

A marine research biologist and ecologist, Michelle studied the flora and fauna of Alaska’s waters. She was a cutting-edge explorer, she explored the oceans depths from Metlakatla to Barrow, from Nome to Saint Lawrence Island and the Pribilof Islands, to Attu in the Aleutians … all with passion and focus. Submarine pilot, ROV  operator, scuba diver, educator, EMT, impassioned advocate for marine conservation, hockey player, skijorner, sailor, commercial fisherwoman, husky-whisperer, softball player, tennis player, fly fisher extraordinaire, surfer, world traveler, photographer, birder, most genial host and gourmet cook, as well as founder and proprietor of Oceanus Alaska, chair of the Alaska chapter of the Explorers Club, volunteer firefighter, founding member of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and other groups.  Michelle lived her 54 years to their absolute fullest with conviction, sincerity and purpose. She “lived” Carpe Diem!”

Whether helping discover new species of whale (Baird’s beaked whale) and kelp (golden V kelp) or checking in a no-check hockey league or providing hands-on marine science camps to youth around Alaska  or advising o state local and federal policies or piloting a submarine to depths of the Bering Sea … a woman of action, by her energy and dedication, Michelle’s goal was to be all inclusive and to let others know she cared for them.

From her days playing in the tide pools on Ketchikan’s rocky ocean shores, to the day she left us, Michelle did not mince words or feelings … she fiercely loved her friends, family and the issues she chose to champion. Whether into fires or other situations, she ran toward, never away from, people needing help. She lived with integrity, grit, courage and devotion to scientific research and noble causes, inspiring love and appreciation for community and environment.

She is survived by her parents, Shirley and Jim Ridgway (Anchorage and Fort Worth, TX); her brothers, Scott, (NC), Paul (OR) and Mark Ridgway (Juneau), her sisters-in-law Heather Ridgway (Juneau), and Laurie Ridgway (NC). Her closest companion, dear friend, and work associate is Kate Wynne (Juneau and Winthrop, WA) and her Siberian, Attu (Kluane Kiwaataghme, a service dog who frequently flew first class). And like-family friend Paula Smedley. She also leaves many loving nieces and nephews and cousins, and many, many dear friends. Her cousins Joann and Kurt Reiselbach also live in Juneau. She will be missed in ways we cannot put into words.

If you have a moment, please send pictures and stories to:

A shin-dig to remember and celebrate Michelle’s spirit will be held in Juneau on March 11, 2018. We’ll bring the submarine and her dog Attu. In lieu of flowers or gifts and for details on the memorial, please visit

The family very much appreciates her friends and peers and neighbors for helping her have the very rich, but all to9o brief life she had. Thank you.