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“Thorne Papa” Cliff Ridley redefines the meaning of positive student–staff relationships

October 14, 2022

Cora Dow
FOOD IS WHERE THE HEART IS: Cliff Ridley, known amongst dining hall employees as "Thorne Papa", stands in the middle of Thorne Dining Hall. Four student dining employees stand next to him and smile. Ridley comments on the strong relationships he's built with students over the years.

Over his thirteen years with Bowdoin Dining, Service Supervisor Cliff Ridley has connected with countless student dining employees, earning him the friendly nickname “Thorne Papa.”

“That’s just how close I get to the kids working with them,” he said. “I’m there for them no matter what it is.”

Ridley, a native of Belfast, Maine, came to Bowdoin Dining after serving in the U.S. Navy as a cook. While in the service, he served aboard the USS Kittiwake, but the last four years of his service were spent at the defunct Naval Air Station in Brunswick.

He began his career at Bowdoin as a catering steward before being promoted to a catering supervisor and taking on his current role as a service supervisor three years ago. Much of his day is spent scheduling employees, organizing employee payroll and facilitating efficient cleaning, all of which helps Thorne Dining Hall run smoothly. Although he values these managerial duties, Ridley noted that the most important aspect of his job is the relationships he fosters with students.

“It’s been awesome to get to work with the kids. I watch them come in as first years and watch them grow and come into their own. It’s just amazing to watch,” he said. “Getting to know [students] is what makes it worthwhile.”

Shayla Pham ’25, a dining hall floor manager who works with Ridley, said that his friendliness always brightens dining shifts for her and her coworkers. She recalled stories of Ridley pulling pranks on new hires and checking in on how students’s classes are going.

“He’s just so sweet and very accommodating ,” Pham said. “He remembers everyone’s faces and even outside of work, he says ‘hi’ all the time.”

Ridley often invites both current students and alumni to bonfires and dinners at his home with his wife, Christine, who works at Moulton. He looks forward to hosting more of these gatherings and seeing more students converging in the dining halls following eased Covid-19 restrictions.

“During the pandemic, it changed a lot … It was so weird not to have students in the dining halls. Now it’s getting back to the way I remember it,” Ridley said.

Ridley noted that he sees the dining halls as a source of connection for Bowdoin students. From his perspective, dining staff do all they can to promote community, including making student’s family’s recipes into dining hall staples—butter chicken and granola, for example.

While Bowdoin Dining staff all work to establish positive relationships with students, Pham shares the popular, firmly held belief that Ridley’s charismatic and active engagement with students had a uniquely special impact.

“He makes an active intention to get to know different people and talk to everyone,” Pham said.

Ridley hopes to do what he can to help students succeed in everything they do.

“[I and the rest of Bowdoin Dining staff] love to see [students] come in smiling, laughing and having a good time,” Ridley said. “We just love to see them happy, and if they’re not happy we want to find something we can do to brighten their day.”


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