Jim Ryan, who served two terms as Illinois attorney general and unsuccessfully ran for governor, has died. He was 76.
A reluctant politician and no-nonsense prosecutor whose career success was tempered by personal tragedy, Ryan died at his home in DuPage County on Sunday after “several lengthy illnesses,” family spokesman Dan Curry said.
Stoic and soft-spoken, Ryan, a Republican, was widely viewed as an administrator devoted to integrity and efficiency. He disliked the obligatory retail politics of handshakes and back slaps.
“Although it was his life’s work, Jim never really felt comfortable in the field of politics...,” said Stephen Culliton, former DuPage County chief judge and Ryan’s longtime friend. “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 one-time teenage champion of the middleweight division of the Chicago Golden Gloves novice division, became attorney general in 1995 and was easily reelected in 1998.
His 2002 gubernatorial aspirations were complicated by trying to succeed Republican Gov. George Ryan — no relation — who had been implicated 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 comeback attempt.
“From the time I met him until his death, Jimmy always was striving to do the right thing and to help people,” Ryan’s wife of 54 years, Marie said. “That was who he was and he was very successful at it.”
Ryan and his family have sustained repeated crises. In 1996, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins, large-cell lymphoma, fighting through it and two subsequent cancer scares. His youngest child, 12-year-old Annie, collapsed in January 1997 and died from an undetected brain tumor. Ten months later, Marie Ryan nearly died from a serious heart illness. And in 2007, 24-year-old son Patrick died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
After leaving office, Ryan founded The Center for Civic Leadership at Benedictine University in Lisle to bolster students’ involvement in civic life and civil politics. The annual Annie Ryan Run 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 funds for families dealing with suicide.
“He never stopped trying to help people -- women, children, crime victims,” former aide John Pearman said. “He was tireless and incorruptible.”