Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jim Ryan's strength

Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan's talk today was the most powerful I've ever heard him deliver. Tragically, the event was the funeral of his 24-year-old son Patrick J. Ryan, who took his own life Sunday evening.

Jim eulogized Patrick in a strong, unwavering voice at Visitation Catholic Church in Elmhurst, before an overflow crowd of 500 or so. The pews were filled with sobs throughout the tribute and more so at the end, when, voice finally breaking, he bid goodbye to his youngest son.

Patrick had a sweet soul and a kind spirit. I first met him 12 years ago as I accompanied Jim Ryan downstate to a political event in a rickety airplane. Patrick rode in the co-pilot's seat and was awestruck by the experience. He was a polite, smart kid who was hit with a lot at onceĆ¢€”the death of his younger sister Annie of a brain tumor, the near deaths of both Jim (to cancer) and his mother Marie (heart attack). Through it all, Patrick suffered mightily from a lifelong arthritis that left him constantly in physical pain. He never was able to fully overcome those obstacles, Jim told those at the service.

But now that sweet soul and kind spirit has peace and is reunited with his beloved sister in a better place, Jim Ryan explained.

It was crystal clear to all who heard Jim speak that his faith has helped him through his family's tragedies. It has given him peace through the storms. It was a lesson that he sent directly to the hearts of all who heard it today.

I have spent a lot of time around the Ryan family over the past 12 years and I marvel at their strength during times of adversity. There are few people on earth kinder than Marie Ryan. Jim and Marie's children, extended family, and network of friends, all are loving and supportive. I have learned a lot about life being around them.

The woman who succeeded Jim Ryan as Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, attended the service, as did Comptroller Dan Hynes, Illinois Supreme Court Justices Bob Thomas and Anne Burke, former state Senate President James "Pate" Philip, Congresswoman Judy Biggert, and DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett. Many others have given the family comforting words in the last few dark days, including presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Jim Ryan would have been a tremendous governor. That didn't work out. He doesn't go around whining about it. Instead, he quietly counsels hundreds of cancer patients and teaches students about government. Although he is retired from politics, he represents what is right about public life in Illinois. May God bless him and his family during the weeks and months ahead.

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