Former GOP Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan dead at 76

A once-prominent Illinois Republican who served as the state attorney general and made two unsuccessful runs for governor has passed away.

Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan died “peacefully” at his home Sunday at the age of 76 following “several lengthy illnesses,” according to a statement from his family published by the DuPage Policy Journal.

Law and politics

Born in Chicago in 1946, Ryan was a Golden Gloves boxing champion in high school who went on to graduate from a local college and then received a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1971.

His public service began as an assistant in the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office but Ryan soon stepped away to practice law privately in the county before returning later to that office as the county’s state’s attorney.

In 1994, Ryan was elected as attorney general of Illinois and served two terms in that role before launching the first of two failed gubernatorial bids in 2002.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Ryan lost his first bid for governor to Democratic candidate Rod Blagojevich, in part due to unfortunate public confusion about his shared name, but no relation, with the scandal-plagued incumbent Gov. George Ryan — confusion that Blagojevich seized upon and played to his advantage.

Ryan attempted a second gubernatorial run in 2010 but never made it out of the GOP primary due, in part, to his connections to other individuals embroiled in corruption scandals as well as criticism over wrongful prosecutions of innocent men for the high-profile murder of a young girl while he was attorney general.

A life full of personal tragedies

The Tribune noted that, politics aside, Ryan suffered several major personal tragedies over the years, including the deaths of two of his children — his 12-year-old daughter Annie, who died suddenly in 1997 from an undetected brain tumor, and his 24-year-old son Patrick, who took his own life in 2007 after struggling with his own health issues and the death of his sister.

Ryan himself battled Stage 2 non-Hodgkins large cell lymphoma, first diagnosed in 1996, and his wife Marie nearly died less than a year later from a serious heart illness in 1997.

He is survived by Marie, his wife of 54 years, their four remaining children, and 11 grandchildren. Ryan also leaves behind a legacy of being a devout Catholic who used his own tragedies for good, including raising funds for a brain tumor center as well as providing support for families dealing with losses from suicide and cancer.

A good person who always tried to help others

“The news that former Attorney General Jim Ryan has passed is a sad day for Illinois. MK and I offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Marie, and all of his children and loved ones,” Gov. JB Pritzker (D) said in a thread of tweets, and added, “Jim’s most memorable qualities will forever be his integrity and the way he carried himself and his family through devastating personal tragedy with grace and compassion. He was an example for us all, and may his memory be a blessing.

In the statement from the family, wife Marie said, “From the time I met him until his death, Jimmy always was striving to do the right thing and to help people. That was who he was and he was very successful at it.”

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