Tribute to friend, mentor who cared about people |

Tribute to friend, mentor who cared about people

Abby Johnson

When I gaze with awe tonight at the largest moon of this century, I will have a moment of deep solstice silence for my friend and former boss Linda Ryan. Linda passed away Saturday, on a flight to Paris where she planned to celebrate the millennium.

Linda hired me in 1984 to work for the Nevada Office of Community Services, an office of then Gov. Richard Bryan. She took a chance hiring me, the former executive director of Citizen Alert, an outlaw in the world of state government.

In the mid ’80s, NOCS was in its heyday. Every orphan federal program with free money attached found a home at NOCS. Matching funds? We’ll find them somewhere. Staffing? We’ll make it work.

Linda Ryan built an agency designed to meet the needs of disadvantaged

people and communities. NOCS helped people to weatherize their homes

for the winter, pay their utility bills, and get loans to start businesses. We helped rural communities replace water and sewer systems, drill new water wells, build senior centers, and purchase fire trucks. Social service agencies received funds to help their clients.

And communities and businesses received economic incentives to conserve

energy and recycle.

She assembled a team of young professionals to make these programs happen. She expected a lot and she got it. Former staff will confirm that it was not always easy working for Linda. But she cared deeply about her employees and the purpose of the agency. The combination of

people, programs and purpose made those years some of the best for many of us who were privileged to work for her.

Linda created a place where local governments could get help from state government. She was a special friend to rural Nevada, helping when no one else could or would. At NOCS, we were expected to find a way to say “yes.” Linda Ryan was rural Nevada’s advocate within the executive branch, something that has been missing since the dissolution of the agency in 1989.

At NOCS and as welfare director for the state, she stood up against all odds for poor people. She put people first and fought budget battles to continue to help poor people and needy communities.

Her staff learned by her example. She created programs to meet new needs, fostered partnerships, and took risks. We learned from her example how to be effective, not political.

We watched her stand up for what was right and say what needed to be said. And some of us appreciated her willingness to let us bring our babies to work.

Linda connected with people one-on-one. She took a personal interest in her staff, and even after we had all moved on to other jobs, we stayed in touch. One former staffer received a call from her after his job had been eliminated at another state agency. “You have to stay in

state government,” she directed. “We don’t want to lose you.”

When you were talking with Linda, you were drawn in to a conversation both wide ranging and deep. A conversation with Linda Ryan mattered.

Linda’s legacy in Nevada is more than programs she fostered and communities she helped. Her spirit of public service, which she infused in us, continues in the lives and work of her former NOCS staff.

I’ll remember Linda Ryan every time I see a full moon, and miss her as a friend and mentor always.

Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, grant management and nuclear waste issues. She is married and has one middle school-age child.