This feature was first published in Journeys Winter 2018.
This article was written by communications writer Kinjal Shah.
Attending seven schools in 16 years offered Susan Ridley unique insights into foreign customs, governments, and cultures, enhancing her ability to work as a forensic accountant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In this role for almost 23 years now, Ridley has seen it all! She prepares subpoenas, serves them, assists with searches for documents at business locations, testifies in trial, testifies in grand jury, prepares summary charts, assists agents with interviews...the list goes on. “There are various violations that I work as a Forensic Accountant—criminal cases (healthcare fraud, public corruption fraud, mortgage fraud, financial institution fraud, etc); counterterrorism, and counterintelligence. I have worked every violation and have enjoyed it immensely. My only regret is not having been able to travel overseas with my job!” says Ridley.
Travels around the world have shaped her life. “In Singapore, my parents made us experience everything we could—attending a Chinese New Year’s Party, a Malay wedding in the kampong, a Thaipusam celebration, and even visiting the doctor in one of the poor villages so we could experience how some of the locals lived and appreciate more of what we had,” says Ridley. “When we lived in Athens, Greece for my junior and senior years, we lived in a flat above an elderly Greek couple, who enjoyed sharing their lives and customs with us.” When Ridley first started at Singapore American School in 1973, she recalls having difficulties with understanding some of the teachers of different nationalities. It didn’t help that she was hard of hearing. Despite obtaining a medical exemption from an audiologist, Ridley was required to study two years of foreign language in order to graduate!
“Taking up Malay was probably the best thing ever!” she says. “However, once I moved to Athens, the school there did not require the two years of foreign language, thankfully, as I had only taken a year of Malay.”
At SAS, Ridley tried out for teams—cheerleading, basketball, swimming, and more and finally made the softball team! The girl with a “large boxy hearing aid” in her bra struggled with some of the activities. Whenever she lifted her arms, the hearing aid would fall out. So much for sport! However, softball was her saving grace and having her sibling on the team helped immensely.
Ridley attended college at Sam Houston State University—a small college that suited her with her hearing loss. It was here she met her husband of 37 years. She had just turned 18 and was going to go work in a local steak house on campus as a bartender and was to be trained by her now husband. Today, they have two children and two grandchildren—the oldest lives in Dakar, Senegal with her husband and two boys (four and one) and her son is in Seattle, Washington trying to find a way to move overseas.
At college, Ridley realized the best business for her to achieve her goals would be to major in accounting. Her decision to work in the industry was reinforced by an auditing class she fell in love with. As an auditor, Ridley worked for local accounting firms as an accountant, and an as auditor for financial institutions. Ridley obtained her Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner certifications, which she has held for over 20 years. According to Ridley, “The knowledge I gained from the CPA and CFE certifications and my job experience is what best qualified me to become a Forensic Accountant with the FBI.”
As an internal auditor at a financial institution, Ridley worked on a few cases which were referred to the FBI. Through this, she was able to meet a couple of great special agents. “I told them I would love to continue this kind of work, and realize with my hearing loss I could not be a special agent,” says Ridley. They referred her to apply for the forensic accounting position, and the rest is history.
As she walks down memory lane, Ridley fondly remembers SAS faculty member Mrs. Stratton, who had a happy disposition and was always glad to see her students. “Her smile made my day and melted away any unhappiness,” says Ridley. “I loved the street food, the Singapore American Club, and the kids. It was a great environment and I learned to be more independent and outgoing. The small class sizes were what I really needed, and the “small family community” environment of the school was wonderful. Interim Semester was truly unique to SAS. We lived on the water in Changi and I enjoyed being able to just walk out of the front yard and swim to our boat and ski. I loved it all—except the humidity!”
Today, Ridley sits on the Governing Board for the Texas School for the Deaf, in Austin, Texas. “It has been a wonderful experience and I have enjoyed being around the teachers, kids, administration, and other board members. With my hearing loss, I feel like those folks truly understand what it is like to be severely hard of hearing and they are so accommodating. It is an honor to serve them,” she says. In her spare time, she loves to sew—quilts, blankets, and whatever else her children request, create Shutterfly projects, read, and travel.
- class of 1977
- forensic accountant