Prior to that appointment, Secretary Ridge served as Assistant to the President for the Office of Homeland Security, created in October 2001 after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks. Before that, he was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania, first in 1986 and also in 1995. He was elected six times to the United States House of Representatives starting in 1982, the first enlisted Vietnam combat veteran elected to that chamber.
Born in Munhall, in Pittsburgh's Steel Valley, the son of a travelling salesman and navy veteran, he was the oldest of three children. Ridge was raised in a working class family in veterans' public housing in Erie, Pennsylvania from 1948. He was educated a local Catholic schools and did well both academically and in sports. He earned a scholarship to Harvard College, paying his way through construction work, graduating with honors in 1967.
After his first year at the Dickinson School of Law, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star for Valor, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Combat Infantry Badge. A ruptured appendix cut short his tour and he returned home in 1970, a childhood ear infection was also aggravated by his service and Ridge has needed a hearing aid in his left ear since then. After returning to Pennsylvania, he earned his law degree at Dickinson, graduating in 1972, and was in private practice. He became assistant district attorney in Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1980 and prosecuted 86 cases in two years. In 1982 he ran for Congress for Pennsylvania, he won and has (to 2003) never lost an election for political office.
Tom Ridge and his wife, Michele, the former executive director of the Erie County Library system, have two children, Lesley and Tommy. He married Michele Moore in 1979.