Former Gov. George Ryan Was With Wife When She Died

UPDATED 06/28/11 11:13 p.m.

KANKAKEE, Ill. (CBS) — Imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan got to spend a few hours with his wife before she lost her battle with lung cancer Monday night.

Lura Lynn Ryan’s children warmly welcomed family and friends to their parents’ longtime home in Kankakee on Tuesday, but they would not talk to reporters about their mother’s death. “We just want privacy our privacy now,” Homer Ryan said.

Instead, George Ryan’s attorney, former Gov. Jim Thompson described Lura Lynn Ryan’s final hours with her family at her side, including her husband, who was released for prison for several hours to be with her.

As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, Thompson said the Ryan family gathered at the Kankakee hospital where Mrs. Ryan, 76, was being treated, and made the decision to remove her from the respirator that had been keeping her alive.

“Governor Ryan was there, and participated in that decision; sat with the family,” Thompson said. “When she was removed from the respirator, shortly thereafter, she died peacefully, and the family was together at the end. Through the kindness of the warden, the governor was able to spend about six hours with his family last night, and with Lura Lynn, before being taken to the penitentiary.”

CBS 2’s Mike Parker has more on the story.

Mrs. Ryan, Thompson said, fought to live for one reason.

“When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and terminal lung disease, she decided that she would do everything in her power to stay alive until he was released,” Thompson said. “And she fought for that with her mind and with her body and yesterday her body finally wouldn’t let her fight anymore.”

Lura Lynn Ryan was remembered in her neighborhood as gracious and a supporter of local charities. Gina Zunke said she was a go to neighbor.

“She’s helped me since I was younger with fundraisers for school, so if I needed a raiser for band, she was there,” Zunke said.

It was a Characteristic she displayed as Illinois’ first lady, friends said.

“I just salute her, she was an admirable person, a good person, a good mother, a good grandmother, a good neighbor,” Thompson said. “Everybody speaks of her with admiration.”

Thompson pointed out that George and Lura Lynn Ryan had never been separated in their more than 55 years of marriage, except for Ryan’s service in the U.S. Armed Forces in Korea, and the 3 1/2 years that Ryan has been imprisoned – during which Mrs. Ryan visited her husband until toward the end.

The former governor, Thompson said, has been allowed to visit his dying wife three other times this year–once in January, again sometime in the spring and then again over the weekend. Each visit was about two hours. For the first two visits, Ryan was only allowed to be with his wife and not his children, Thompson said.

Mrs. Ryan had long suffered from lung cancer, and defense attorneys said back in December that she only had months to live.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Steve Miller reports

As CBS 2’s Bill Kurtis reports, for most of their political life, Lura Lynn and George Ryan enjoyed a remarkable popularity. Mrs. Ryan was always at her husband’s side.

She was known as the first lady of Illinois, endorsing programs to help children and to build libraries, but most importantly, being Mrs. George Ryan.

Then things took a terrible turn. Her husband was charged by federal prosecutors for political malfeasance. It was left to Mrs. Ryan to face the public.

When asked what she would do if her husband was found guilty, she said: “I really haven’t thought about it that much. I really don’t know; if he should be found guilty, I’m sure that we’ll lose heaven only knows what all, but I’ll survive and so will he.”

She was right on one count. George Ryan was found guilty in March 2006, and was later sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. They did lose everything.

But Mrs. Ryan would not survive lung cancer.

Still, her last test was to get her husband out of prison – if not permanently, then so she could see him one more time.

But U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer in December denied a motion to vacate part of former Gov. Ryan’s sentence and release him. Even after that, she kept fighting.

She spoke with Kurtis in December.

“I love him and miss him with all my heart, and I want him to please come home soon. I know he would love to be here with me, and one day, we will be back together the way we should be, and live a happy normal life together,” she said.

That, of course, was not to be. But it said so much about Lura Lynn Ryan.

“I was very strong, and I’ve been through this whole thing. I have great faith in the Lord, and I said, ‘Well, he evidently hasn’t been listening lately,’” she said in December. “But pretty soon, I’m going to start knocking at his door a little harder.”

George Ryan tried again to win his release in January. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an emergency plea to free Ryan because of his Lura Lynn’s failing health.

But Ryan was allowed to travel to Kankakee to visit his wife in intensive care on one occasion in January, and two other times before Monday night.

Ryan also visited his wife after she underwent chemotherapy, and this past Friday when she was admitted to the hospital.

Another appeal is now pending, asking to throw out a large part of George Ryan’s conviction.

Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a close friend of the Ryan family, talked with WBBM Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser about Lura Lynn’s passing.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser reports

He said he made it a point to stop and say hello, as Lura Lynn’s health was failing, anytime he was in Kankakee.

“Her heart was always large, and her caring for her family and her friends was always gracious,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said Lura Lynn Ryan was quiet and reserved in public, and always positive.

“She would always shake your hand or pat your hand,” Rutherford said. “I always thought of her as someone that was a caring mother type, or an aunt type. She was one that was very, very, very gracious to everyone around her.”

Rutherford recalls that Lura Lynn put together a history of Illinois first ladies and their impact on their husbands.

An official cause of death has not been released by the Kankakee Coroner’s office. Funeral arrangements are pending, but a private funeral is expected.

Neighbors hope former Gov. Ryan can leave the confines of prison to attend his wife’s funeral.

  • Citizen for a Livable Chicago

    May she rest in Peace.

  • edward c. stengel

    My sympathies to the Ryan family, but this is not a reason to let convicted felon George Ryan out of prison. The spouses of prisoners die every day, and we don’t let them out of prison merely because they lose a loved one.

    • working man

      EDward you are so right.

      • SMH

        I totally agree with your comment. My condolences but this privilege should be given to every inmate regardless of their former political or celebrity status. If you do it for one, then do it for all or just not do it for anyone in jail.

  • Susan

    George, You have only yourself to blame for your long suffering wife dying all alone. Your crimes aside, if you had been a man and gone to prison when you were originally sentenced, you would have been home by now.

    Loser. Move over now and make room for Rod.

    • fed up

      Better yet… George can croak…the sooner, the better. So we don’t have to keep paying taxes on this loser.

  • My thoughts

    now the felon bribr taker can do the rest of his time without “big” jim running to court every week trying to gt him out, IF they let him attend the funeral he should also stop and put flowers on them six willis kids…..just glad tthat his greed and corruption caused him to be in jail as his wife died you crook….like they say, mmmm don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time…well on the brighter side blago and black are on their way back, so at leaast you can play cards….

  • Roberta Waker

    Rest in Peace, dear lady, your suffering is finally over.

  • Mr. Monk

    Ok, now just thinking of committing a crime is a crime. How many of us had been tempted in life, but did nothing in the end. Stupid jury. If you move your grocery cart up tio the front doors of the store, but stop short of leaving without paying, did you commit a felony? The FBI came prematurely beause they had nothing but talk. Proof positive, not reasonable doubt should be the law of the land. If you wish I was locked up with Blago, then you just committed a felony too.

    • Emily

      The FBI came prematurely because they saw what was about to play out. Who would let the first African American President get caught up in this scandal. The feds stopped what was about to happen, because it was easier to deal with before it went further. Trust me Blago knows more but has not spoken. It will be interesting as to whether he rats out some of the cronies!!!!

  • Bill S.

    The Willis family got to spend time with their 6 dying children also … on the roadside as they watched themburn to death in a gasoline saturated van. May they too, rest in peace.

  • Katie

    I would like to send my condolences to the Ryan family. I am so glad to hear that George was able to be there with his lifelong partner. He is not a violent person, the warden made the right decision. Thank you
    May God guide them through this time, and give them the strength to move forward. We all know Lura Lynn was suffering. Now she is an Angel watching down on her entire family. My thoughts and prayers are with all of the family and friends. Rest in Pease sweet Lura Lynn…..

  • Jim

    A crime is a crime, unless you have connections. How many criminals have the luxury of spending time with a loved one during their time of need? Prison these days is a country club; tv’s, better computers than in schools, etc. Stick people in there with nothing and make it a punishment so it deters them from going back! RIP Lura.

  • Ms. Ele'

    Lura was a gem. God Bless the Ryan Family during this moment of bereavement.

  • Not a Ryan Fan

    I am outraged that he was able to visit her six times during his incarceration. We have many thousands of non-violent offenders in the prison system, and they are not afforded visits home for their families medical emergencies. This was NOT right, I feel sorry for Mrs. Ryan, and my condolences to her family, but he is a convicted criminal and did not deserve this. He should have had to live the rest of his life knowing that he could have been there for her if not for his poor judgement and actions.

    Did the taxpayers pay for his transportation?

  • Not a Ryan Fan

    Whoops, I meant visit her three times, not six.

  • unknown

    may she RI. but talk about special treatment!

  • george

    look, i have never wished death on anyone, ever…. now lets put him back in his cell, and throw away the key…

  • Tom

    I wonder what Blago is thinking right now……………..

  • Let George Go Home He Is Done

    George was the last guy leaving the party and got stuck cleaning up plain and simple.

  • Ryan you SUCK!!!

    Are you kidding me, they should have left him locked up while his wife passed,like they do with every other criminal that is incarcerated. Why give him special treatment over other convicted felons. So now all defense attorneys have this to use to get their clients out to visit family members that are ill at our expense, what a joke

  • billyd

    What a nasty bunch of commentary. Get a life, people, and maybe you’ll also find a bit of human compassion on your journey.

  • Sam

    First and Foremost my condolesences to the Ryan family however I know plenty of people in jail who have lossed their loved ones who wasnt allowed to see them . What makes him so special if he is still nothing more than a criminal. who is he to be allowed to see his wife because she was dying?

  • Penny DeJohn

    No other person in prison is allowed to leave prison to be with a dying spouse or parent. Why special treatment for this man who was convicted? So wrong. I understand the want to be there but it’s WRONG and I don’t care who doesn’t like this comment. Like I Said Earlier: No other person in prison is allowed to leave prison for a dying spouse. THIS IS WRONG!!!!! He’s a crook and needs to be treated as one.

  • Lyndia

    You are right billyd. These are some COLD HEARTED PEOPLE. Mr/Mrs/Ms never did anything wrong in my life people. Holier than thou type. WELL, RYAN WAS ABLE TO SEE HIS WIFE IN HER LAST MOMENTS AND I AM GLAD. These people has the “kick him when he is down” mentality. They are doing our great former governor like that. YES, I LIKE HIM. RIP Lura. Keep on pushing Rod. You will make it.

  • billyd

    To the meatheads who say every prisoner should be granted this right – let’s agree that if you are in prison for a non-violent crime and your wife of 55 YEARS dies, you should, just maybe, be granted the right to visit her on her deathbed and go to her funeral. Now, go back to your mom’s basements, all of you.

    • Tim

      What does it matter if they were married for 55 years or 5 years? He is a convicted felon and in Federal prison he committed the crime he should serve his time. What about the Willis children?

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    […] Ryan’s wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, died on June 27 after a long battle with lung cancer. Ryan was releas… […]

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