Lura Lynn Ryan, 76, wife of former Illinois governor
CHICAGO — Lura Lynn Ryan — who spent the waning years of her life seeking freedom for her husband, imprisoned former governor George Ryan — quietly spent her final moments with her husband of 55 years at her side.
She died late Monday evening at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee after a long bout with cancer, said Kankakee County Coroner Robert Gessner. She was 76.
Ryan had been released from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Ind., to spend several hours with her Monday, one of four times since January the prison’s warden has allowed the former governor to see his ailing wife, despite repeatedly denied requests from the courts.
“It was enormously important to him and to her,’’ said Jim Thompson, Ryan’s attorney and a former governor. “They’ve been together all their lives, really.’’
Lura Lynn Ryan had been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized last week because she was having trouble breathing. She was placed on a respirator and taken off it Monday night after it appeared nothing else could be done, Thompson said.
She was a steadfast supporter of the former governor, and maintained that he had never done anything wrong during his lengthy political career.
They met as teenagers and had six children together, including a set of triplets. Friends described the couple as “nearly inseparable.’’
“If you could approach Lura Lynn, you were approaching George,’’ said Tony Leone, a family friend and former aide to George Ryan. “She was always at his side.’’
The former governor, serving time on federal corruption charges, was quietly escorted from the Indiana prison to be with her four separate times about 130 miles away.
During Monday’s visit, family members believed Lura Lynn may have squeezed her husband’s hand.
“She died peacefully not too long afterward,’’ Thompson said.
Ryan was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, and has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud, and making false statements to the FBI.
Lura Lynn Lowe and the former governor met in a high school English class. They had five daughters, one son, and more than a dozen grandchildren.
Lura Lynn Ryan had no idea when they got married that her husband would go into politics. He started life as a Kankakee drug store owner.
The climb was steady, from a seat in the General Assembly to lieutenant governor to secretary of state and finally the governorship, reaching the pinnacle of both state government and the Republican establishment in Illinois. Friends, who remembered her as strong-willed and a trusted adviser, said yesterday that the family pulled together closer in the past years.
“The rollercoaster life of any politician can kind of break families apart, it did just the opposite,’’ Leone said. “It united that family. They were unbelievable strong.’’