Jim Ryan, who served two terms as Illinois attorney general and unsuccessfully ran for governor, has died. He was 76 years old.
A reluctant politician and no-nonsense prosecutor whose career success was tempered by personal tragedy, Ryan died Sunday at his DuPage County home after “several long illnesses,” family spokesman Dan Curry said.
Stoic and soft-spoken, Ryan, a Republican, was widely regarded as an administrator dedicated to integrity and efficiency. He didn’t like the mandatory retail policy of handshakes and pats on the back.
“Although it was his life’s work, Jim never really felt comfortable in the realm of politics…” said Stephen Culliton, former DuPage County Chief Justice and friend of Ryan’s longtime. “When the inevitable conflicts arose between the politically beneficial thing and the ‘right’ thing, he always did the right thing.”
After three terms as DuPage County state’s attorney, Ryan, a former teenage middleweight champion in the Chicago Golden Gloves novice division, became attorney general in 1995 and was easily re-elected in 1998. .
His 2002 gubernatorial aspirations were complicated by trying to succeed Republican Gov. George Ryan – no relation – who had been embroiled in a bribery scheme and would later serve five years in prison. Jim Ryan lost to Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who would eventually be convicted in a separate corruption scandal and spend years in prison.
Jim Ryan also unsuccessfully sought the 2010 Republican primary for governor in a bid for a comeback.
“From the time I met him until his death, Jimmy always strived to do the right thing and help people,” said Marie, Ryan’s wife of 54 years. “That was who he was and he did very well.”
Ryan and his family suffered repeated seizures. In 1996, he was diagnosed with large cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he battled and two subsequent cancer attacks. Her youngest child, 12-year-old Annie, collapsed in January 1997 and died of an undetected brain tumour. Ten months later, Marie Ryan nearly died of a serious heart condition. And in 2007, her 24-year-old son Patrick died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
After leaving office, Ryan founded the Center for Civic Leadership at the Benedictine University of Lisle to strengthen student participation in civic life and civil politics. The annual Annie Ryan Run, which he and Marie sponsor, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for brain tumor research. For several years, they hosted the Patrick Ryan Main Event featuring amateur boxing which raised money for families struggling with suicide.
“He never stopped trying to help people – women, children, victims of crime,” former aide John Pearman said. “He was tireless and incorruptible.”