Life of former IU President John Ryan celebrated
By Danielle Paquette
October 29, 2011
Friends and family of former Indiana University President John W. Ryan gathered at the Indiana Memorial Union Friday afternoon to celebrate his life. Ryan, who served as the university's 14th president from 1971 to 1987, died Aug. 6.
"John Ryan was a truly extraordinary man," said Robin Gress, IU head of ceremonies. "Shortly after his passing, people whose lives he touched came together to plan not only a tribute to him, but the school he loved."
Terri Belden, his assistant for more than 40 years, said Ryan loved IU traditions, higher education and perfectly sharpened pencils.
"He was here during a time of great growth, and he was instrumental in that growth," she said. "His work benefited every aspect of IU and strengthened public education throughout the U.S."
At the ceremony, which began at 4 p.m. in the Whittenberger Auditorium, IU president Michael McRobbie spoke of Ryan's achievements, which include overseeing the creation of the Schools of Public and Environmental Affairs, Journalism and Optometry, and adding satellite IU campuses across the state.
"He had a broader vision of the university," McRobbie said. "He saw the possibility for IU as a great state university to operate on an international stage at a time when few others were thinking in such wide-ranging terms."
Sylvia McNair, a two-time Grammy winner and IU Jacobs School of Music faculty member, sang Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" — a favorite of Ryan's, composed in Bloomington — as Charles Webb, dean emeritus of the Jacobs School, played piano.
A lineup of Ryan's distinguished friends, which included Peggy Gordon Elliot Miller, the former chancellor of Indiana University Northwest, reminisced about him on stage. He was kind, thoughtful and made time for friends despite his continuously hectic schedule, Miller said.
"My children remember John as the remarkable man who always knew their names when he saw them on campus," she said. "Once, he came to a birthday party they arranged for me in Bloomington. Many of my friends couldn't imagine a president who would find time to come to a birthday party, and I couldn't imagine children bold enough to ask the president."
Guests laughed, wiping away tears. Ryan guided his colleagues with unusual support and kindness, Miller continued. He created opportunities for people from every background.
"All of us who worked with John became more than we might've been without his direction," she said.