I Didn't Know...
...that was the phrase I heard over and over again as we gathered to say goodbye to Hales Corners Village President Jim Ryan.
Time and time again among the hundreds who waited more than two hours Friday night to pay their respects at St. Mary's Church, you'd hear someone say, "I didn't know he did that!" or "I had no idea Jim worked on this!". For a man who lived so much of his live publicly, it's amazing how few of us knew the complete man.
There was the Evans Scholar who came out of Chicago and made Milwaukee his home, getting involved in child welfare issues, a passion he'd keep right up to the end as head of Penfield Children's Center. There was the Milwaukee County Board Supervisor and Village President who ran Hales Corners with a calm dignity and efficiency for 20 years. He was with the American Red Cross. He served on a healthy list of boards, committees, and study groups. His work with the Friends of Boerner helped make Whitnall Park's Education and Visitors Center happen. The Mllwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District--he put that together, which had to be not unlike herding cats, considering how well the surrounding committees get along when the issue is money and power. Toss in the endless volunteering and the church work and you wonder when the guy ever slept.
A look around the church at Friday night's visitation and at Saturday's funeral told you all you needed to know about the man we'd gathered to celebrate. Politicians, policemen, bar owners, fellow parishioners, co-workers, mechanics and friends all rubbed shoulders in not-so-silent tribute, matching notes, telling stories of how Jim affected their lives. Tears were understandable. Laughter was hardly out of place as friends told of the Jim Ryan many didn't see: the guy who complained to a buddy about how hard it was trimming trees in his yard with a borrowed chain saw, only to find out he'd put the blade in backwards. How he'd sneak away to squeeze in a quick nine, no matter how busy the day. The way he cooked a steak. How he wore his baseball cap.
It wasn't easy saying goodbye, and the void Jim leaves in the community is huge. There was much we didn't know about the man we paid tribute to this weekend, but I know this: we won't see his kind again anytime soon.