Linda Ryan, former Nevada welfare chief, dies enroute to Paris
CARSON CITY – Linda A. Ryan, whose long career in state service included seven years as Nevada welfare director, died Saturday after being stricken on a flight from Reno to Paris. She was 57.
Ryan, wife of veteran Las Vegas Sun statehouse reporter Robert ”Cy” Ryan, suffered a fatal aneurism. The plane was diverted to Shannon, Ireland, where she was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
A funeral mass is scheduled at 1 p.m. Monday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Carson City. Cremation is being handled by Walton’s. The family requests donations to local charities in lieu of flowers.
Ryan, born and raised in LaPorte, Ind., moved to Nevada in 1966. She graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, worked for the Carson airport and for Sierra Pacific Power Co., and joined the state in 1976 as state energy coordinator.
Ryan was named director of the state Office of Community Services in 1979 and Welfare Division chief in 1985. She resigned in 1992, and later started a family mediation service.
An avid runner and traveler, she also enjoyed photography and music.
In addition to her husband, Ryan is survived by a son, Samuel Contreras and sisters Kay Gori and Joan Eisner, all of Carson City; brother John Williams of Hamlet, Ind.; sisters Pauline Wheeler of Baraboo, Wis., Opal Boron of Union Mills, Ind., and Mary Smith of LaPorte, Ind.; a grandson and 15 nieces and nephews.
Friends and co-workers were stunned by her death.
“It’s just so unbelievable,” Maggie Tracey, a close friend who lives in Carson City, told the Las Vegas Sun. “She was doing something she loved doing. She loved it there (in Paris). She’d really wanted to spend the millennium there, and she was so excited.”
Those who knew Ryan spoke of the kindness and deep concern she brought with her as head of the state Community Services Division and later as director of the state’s welfare office.
“Linda was a pleasure to know, and she was extremely bright,” Sun Executive Editor Mike O’Callaghan said. “Not only was she a fine public servant, she also understood people and their needs. Everything she did in life was on the basis of being fair and
helpful to others.”
“She was such a lovely person,” U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., said. “Linda Ryan was a key figure in my administration as governor. She was extraordinarily talented and effective and a great advocate of the programs she was involved in.”
Faith Greaves, a semi-retired public relations worker who lives in Carson City, met Ryan during the 1970s.
Greaves was an aide for then-Gov. O’Callaghan. It was the height of the women’s liberation movement, and Greaves, Ryan and two other women started a small sideline business marketing posters with feminist slogans. The business lasted about two years, and they never made any money to speak of, Greaves said. But they learned a lot.
“It was all part of that great liberation,” Greaves recalled. “Linda was really strong and very sincere about (women’s liberation). She was a Republican with the heart of a Democrat.”
Mike Willden, state welfare division deputy administrator, said the agency conducted a brief staff meeting Monday morning to announce Ryan’s death. Workers spent most of the morning reminiscing about a woman they remembered as a demanding but caring boss, he said.
“She was known by most of the staff as a very tough administrator, and she was also very fair,” Willden said. “But what a lot of people probably didn’t know was that she had a heart of gold- especially when it came to the welfare kids and the foster kids. She didn’t like a lot of publicity about that.”
Ryan’s death came as a total shock because she was the picture of health, friends said. She was an avid runner who was almost always training for the next event.
“Linda was a total health freak. She ate right. She ran marathons,” Greaves said. “Everybody is just so shocked.”