On May 4, the America’s Heroes Group radio broadcast welcomed Illinois’ 39th governor George H. Ryan Sr. as a regular roundtable panelist. AHG had a real and friendly conversation with Ryan as he talked about his time in the military and his thoughts on capital punishment.
Ryan is a United States Army veteran. His service took him to Korea at the conclusion of the Korean War. The Army trained Ryan as clerk typist, but he served as a pharmacist because the airbase where he was stationed had a pharmacy and no pharmacist.
Classic Army logistics.
Ryan had already completed one year of pharmacy school before he was drafted, so he performed the pharmacy duties for the base well enough. He even sometimes administered injections and assisted the base doctor with the occasional appendectomy. For Ryan, this was the typical above and beyond stuff that the crude and sticky residue of war often pulls you into.
Ryan’s life after the Army made him a pharmacist in his father’s pharmacy. He worked in the family business and lived as a family man throughout his whole career as a pharmacist and as a politician.
George Ryan and his late wife, Lura Lynn, raised six children.
Ryan’s political career would take him from Kankakee all the way to the governor’s mansion. During our conversation, he recalled one instance where 25 people were on death row. Ryan watched appeals courts exonerate 12 of them. In that one instance, a real life and death case study, 48 percent of the people on death row were found innocent.
“I was a believer in the death penalty my whole career,” and true to his Republican platform roots, Ryan honestly believed that it might be possible to fix Illinois’ criminal justice system to accommodate the death penalty. However, in the duration of Ryan’s governorship, he came to the conclusion that “the death penalty was fraught with error and corruption.”
On January 31, 2000, Governor Ryan called a moratorium on all executions.
“If you are going to have a penalty or a law that takes somebody’s life, you better have one that works perfectly,” according to Ryan. Aside from Jesus, nothing works perfectly.
Then came the criminal cases of the 167.
On January 11, 2003, with a backdrop of a political scandal closing in behind him, Ryan commuted the sentences of every last inmate on death row, all 167 of them. Ryan infuriated his Republican colleagues. He got praise from death penalty abolitionists.
Ryan still believes in the death penalty today, though he swears that he would not like to be the one who carries out the execution.
A person’s personality shows through the stories that they tell. Perhaps polarizing, but Ryan is definitely the storyteller, and true to form.
In Korea, “I’d take care of all of the cooks down there and when the fresh milk came in, and the things came in, when I’d go back at night and there may be a quart of milk under the pillow – or something under the bed,” Ryan tells on himself.
If bold views, integrity, and a brutally honest story is what Ryan is about, then former Governor Ryan will find that there is no better place to serve than with America’s Heroes Group.