Thanks to all who've written notes an e-mails on the passing of Jim Ryan.
Those of you who catch the first part of "Wisconsin's Morning News" know that we call it "The Full Disclosure Hour" and, it was during that time Monday that I let folks know that Jim and I had something more than a newsmaker/reporter relationship. And, it was during that time that we aired a feature I did about Jim's battle against cancer (the piece is still up on our website).
Doctors diagnosed Jim with stomach cancer back in January, and I knew it was getting serious when I'd heard that he wouldn't seek another term as Hales Corners Village President in 2008. For a guy as active, vital and involved as Jim Ryan, it had to hurt like hell to give up a job he loved so much (one he kept without opposition after first winning the post in 1988).
My wife and I went to visit Jim and his wife Lisa last week. Still sharp, always plugged in, we talked frankly about the illness and the future. I asked Jim if I could interview him about the turn of events, and, as always, he graciously consented.
We spent about an hour together last week in Jim's office at Penfield Chidren's Center--a facility he administrated with the same love, passion and conviction he did with everything else in his life. Our chat came amid frequent visits from the Penfield trick-or-treaters, with Jim passing out candy and visiting with every kid he could. I, on the other hand, helped myself to his Nestle Crunch mini's.
If you heard the piece, you heard vintage Jim Ryan--frank, honest, minus any anger or outrage about his situation. He talked of being in government to build consensus, finding good people with great ideas and turning those thoughts to action. In all that Jim did, it never was about furthering his own ambitions. He did things for the right reasons, be it on the Milwaukee County Board, in service to Hales Corners, St. Mary Faith Community or any of the seven or so groups, committees and panels he was on right up to his death.
Speaking of Jim in the past tense is hard. Imagining a future without his boundless energy and creativity is depressing. Our community could use so many more Jim Ryans, but today, it lost the only one it had.
It was just a year ago that he, his wife and a bunch of friends gathered at a Hales Corners watering hole after the St. Mary Parish School Endowment Dinner--a formal fundraiser that I'd emceed and almost everyone else in the group had a hand in organizing. Jim won one of the contests at the event--everyone kicks in money and calls heads or tails, with me flipping a quarter and eliminating participants until there's just one person left. Jim was that person, and he wanted to share his good fortune with the group after the bash at a local bar. I went, reluctantly because I was tired, and ended up having a blast. We closed the joint. And, for whatever reason, I took the winning quarter out of my tuxedo pants that night and set it on my dresser. Maybe I was hoping for a point where I might need whatever good luck it still contained. Maybe I'd need it for my next Snickers fix. There it remained--until we got the news about Jim's diagnosis.
The quarter went with me the first time my wife and I went to visit Jim and Lisa. I gave it to him, remembering the night it worked it's charms and hoping that the coin still had some magic left. Whatever it takes, we said.
Jim lasted ten months. It wasn't for a lack of fight, or love from others.
Driving home this morning after getting the news, I had the strangest thought. I remembered the scene in "Jaws", the one in which the sheriff is out on the ocean with the shark hunters, tossing chum before the beast appears to him and him alone. It vanishes back under the water, and he is left to mumble, "We're going to need a bigger boat".
All I can think of now is Jim's service--a celebration of a life well spent in service to his family, his faith and his community. A time to remember laughs, jobs well done, battles honorably fought. A place to recall holidays, vacations and family events with a loving father and husband.
With all the lives he touched, with all the folks he cared about and who cared about him, no matter where they hold that service, all I can think of is this:
They're going to need a bigger church.