Lura Lynn Ryan died with George Ryan at her side

June 29, 2011 3:58:32 PM PDT
Former Illinois governor George Ryan was allowed out of federal prison to be at his wife Lura Lynn's side when she died.

Lura Lynn Ryan passed away Monday night after a long battle with cancer. Her funeral will be private.

It was the fourth time George Ryan was released from prison to visit his ailing wife.

Lura Lynn Ryan was 76.

George Ryan's lawyer, Jim Thompson, says the incarcerated former governor was by his wife's side at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee Monday night when Lura Lynn's breathing tube was removed. She was admitted to the hospital last Thursday for complications from chemotherapy. Ryan suffered from lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.

Thompson says relatives made the decision to remove Mrs. Ryan from a respirator.

"There was literally nothing more that medicine could do for her. She couldn't breathe on her own. She couldn't stay sedated," said Thompson. "When you've been married for 55 years and never been apart, you would want to be there at the end and participate in the decision. It's not something you would just leave to your children."

It was the fourth time since January that George Ryan had been released temporarily to see his wife. That decision by his prison warden drew mixed reactions Tuesday in Ryan's neighborhood.

"I think that was super. I think they did the right thing because after all he didn't kill anybody," said Andy Hauptman, neighbor.

"If one can do it, then all should be able to do it. So I don't know," said Gina Zunke, neighbor.

Lura Lynn's death was not unexpected, but it came on the same day the man who succeeded her husband in office was convicted of some of the same crimes that put him behind bars.

George Ryan, Lura Lynn's husband for more than 50 years, is back in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, awaiting word if he will be able to attend his wife's funeral.

Lura Lynn was, perhaps, the perfect complement to her husband. She was regarded as charming and genteel. More Photos: The Daily-Journal in Kankakee's Tribute

As first lady of Illinois, Lura Lynn used her high profile to encourage young people to speak out about the dangers of drug use.

"I thank them for having the strength and the courage to help others through such a public forum," Lura Lynn said.

Strength and courage was what Lura Lynn needed to sustain her through her husband's six-month-long trial on corruption charges. Among the charges, prosecutors said that the Ryans took lavish vacations to the Bahamas funded by campaign donors.

Lura Lynn -- though never charged -- went on the trips and signed the checks to pay for their stays. The trips were then reimbursed in cash by the Ryans' host, who later got state business.

Her biggest impact on the trial came from TV interviews given on the day her husband decided not to testify. Lura Lynn dropped a bombshell, claiming the feds had ulterior motives for prosecuting her husband in an interview with ABC7's Paul Meincke.

"We really believe that this whole thing started from his commutation of the prisoners on death row, and his stand on the death penalty," Lura Lynn told ABC7.

The statement infuriated federal prosecutors who thought the defense was trying to taint the jury. Ultimately, the judge ended up invoking a gag order for the rest of the trial.

Lura Lynn left without comment on the day of her husband's conviction and had been fighting for his release ever since pleading with the court to release him so he could be with her as her cancer got worse and she required full-time oxygen.

"I think her legacy will be the graciousness that she accepted what has happened to the governor," said Kankakee Mayor Nina Epstein. "She always advocated for his release, but I think that she held herself well in the public eye. I think her legacy will be her family."

"She has gone through these horrible medical situations. She stood tall and strong. It is something that will be long remembered, especially by those of us that knew the both of them," said State Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

Funeral arrangements are still being made.


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