Bernard Schoenburg: Lura Lynn Ryan was always a class act
Gracious always, former Illinois first lady LURA LYNN RYAN was also a great example of grace under pressure.
It’s not easy watching your life partner, elected to the highest office in state government, brought down by the criminal justice system and sent to prison.
But through all the trauma that former Gov. GEORGE RYAN’s legal troubles brought, and as her own health declined, there was never any question, from this vantage point, of the strong bond between these high school sweethearts.
“He adored her and she adored him, and it was obvious,” said TONY LEONE of Springfield, who was clerk of the Illinois House when George Ryan was speaker. Leone also directed the index department when Ryan was secretary of state and has been a close family friend. “She literally was always at his side.”
The former first lady succumbed late Monday at age 76 at a Kankakee hospital after a bout with lung cancer. Her husband of 55 years, in the middle of his 6 1/2-year term in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., on corruption convictions, was able to be with her.
Lura Lynn Ryan took advantage of the opportunity her husband’s political career afforded her to do good things. In 2000, when he was governor, she received the Paul Simon Community Service Award from the Illinois Coalition for Community Services for her work with children and on substance abuse prevention. She also pushed literacy programs in her husband’s time as secretary of state and governor.
At the 2000 Illinois State Fair, she participated in the ribbon cutting at the Artisans Village, an area to highlight homegrown crafts. It was part of her push for more appreciation of Illinois artists.
Unlike some governors, the Ryans made the Executive Mansion their primary home during George Ryan’s term in office from 1999-2003. Lura Lynn Ryan commissioned a book about the mansion, “At Home with Illinois Governors: A Social History of the Illinois Executive Mansion,” intended to help raise private funds for upkeep of the historic building.
“This is such a gorgeous mansion,” she said when talking about the need to document its history.
She also encouraged her husband to get behind what has grown to be a world-class complex of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
“She got George cranked up to help pull in the federal funds, pull in the grant money, pull in whatever it took” to advance the project, Leone said.
Lura Lynn Ryan headed, for a time, the foundation that raises money for the library and museum. She was also on the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
I remember often thinking how hard it must have been on her as the storm of controversy gathered concerning her husband. I recall seeing her at an event at the mansion. Sweet as usual, she asked me something like, “Are you being good to George today?” It was tough to answer, because it was another difficult time in Illinois history.
Mother of six, including triplets, she was “truly devoted” to her kids and grandkids, Leone said.
“She was an exceptionally bright lady,” Leone said. “She could gather people together and motivate them. She certainly motivated people about the presidential library, about any project she would take on, and left a major mark. She is the model first lady.”
It was sweltering on the grounds of the Kankakee County Courthouse in August 2001, when the embattled George Ryan, known to his family as a teddy bear as opposed to the gruff public guy, announced he wouldn’t be seeking a second term as governor.
“There can never be any doubt in my mind about the best thing I ever did in my life, and that was to marry this woman right here,” Ryan said of Lura Lynn. “She’s been a wonderful lifelong partner, and she’s supported me in everything I’ve ever done, and we’re still in love and we still have a great time together. … She loves every child she meets like her own.”
Farewell, Mrs. Ryan.
Lee eyes run in new 13th
A Democratic lawyer who lives in Rochester and works in Springfield is considering making a run for the U.S. House in the new 13th Congressional District.
MARK LEE, 49, is a plaintiff’s attorney specializing in workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. He ran for Springfield Ward 6 alderman in 1995, a year that saw then-incumbent JACK ANDREW get re-elected.
Lee has been a union pipefitter and said he put himself through Millikin University and the University of Idaho law school — when tuition there was less than $700 a semester. A married father of two, he said he often works with unions and has been contacted by people with such groups to consider a run.
“I think I know the district very well,” he said.
A native of Chicago, he graduated from MacArthur High in Decatur after the family moved there when his late father, Gerald, got a job as a superintendent on the Clinton Nuclear Power Plant construction project.
U.S. Rep. TIM JOHNSON, R-Urbana, has said he’s running in the new 13th, which includes much of Springfield. Ex-state Rep. JAY HOFFMAN, D-Collinsville, has also been considering running.
Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or email@example.com.