Ridge said in his resignation letter, ”After more than 22 consecutive years of public service, it is time to give personal and family matters a higher priority.”
The secretary said he would serve until Feb. 1 or until the Senate confirms his successor.
Ridge became the nation’s first White House homeland security advisor in October 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He led the massive effort to rethink security within U.S. borders, and when Congress approved legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security, he became its first secretary in January 2003.
Ridge presided over the merging of 180,000 employees from 22 government agencies into DHS. The department levied six “orange alerts,” when the government boosted security in response to a possible terrorist strike. No terrorist attack occurred in the United States on Ridge’s watch.
“There will always be more to do, but today, America is significantly stronger and safer than ever before,” Ridge wrote.
The 59-year-old has spent most of his life in public service. After returning home from Vietnam, he earned a law degree and went into private practice in Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press. He served as assistant district attorney and then ran for Congress in 1982.
He was reelected five times and became Pennsylvania’s governor in 1995, leaving that post when the president tapped him to be homeland security advisor.
Ridge joins six other departing Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Education Secretary Rod Paige.