James F. Ryan, a founding member and long-time treasurer of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center board of trustees, died March 3 of complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.
Ryan attended the board’s first meeting in 1972—three years before the Hutch opened its doors at its original location in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. He served as the board’s second treasurer from 1985 until he retired in 1992. He had been instrumental in helping secure the land and financing for the Hutch’s present-day campus
When the Hutch outgrew its space adjacent to Swedish Hospital, Dr. Robert W. Day, Hutch president and director from 1981 to 1997, believed it was absolutely essential to develop a campus large enough to house all the research divisions in one location. But obtaining financing for such an immense project was complicated by the fact that the Hutch had no credit history. Then as now, it operated on federal grants and contracts and private donations. It had never borrowed a nickel.
With experience as a top financial executive for both the University of Washington and state government, Ryan had abundant credibility with Wall Street credit rating agencies, major investment banks and the Washington State Health Care Facilities Authority, which would become the conduit issuer of the tax exempt bonds. It was Ryan who persuaded the rest of the board that it could undertake the project. And it was Ryan who led a Hutch delegation to meet with New York-based bank groups to secure their AAA-rated guaranty for the Hutch bonds.
“He brought us great credibility when it was most welcome,” said Day, for whom the South Lake Union campus is named. “The board had complete confidence in him when he looked at the financing. Jim was just so absolutely straightforward. He knew what he was doing, and could explain it in terms that everybody could understand.”
Sure enough, in March 1991, The Seattle Times reported that the bond sale generated wide interest because of the high rating and also because investors called it “a privilege to be associated with such a first-rate issuer—the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.”
Ryan’s presence in the transaction with the major bank groups, credit agencies, issuers and underwriters was “of immeasurable value,” said Fred Hutch Vice President Randy Main, who has been the organization’s chief financial officer for 28 years.
Main also praised the straight-talking Ryan’s role as a mentor to him and others.
“He taught me the importance of distilling issues down to the bare essence and making presentations as simple and concise as possible,” he said. “And he emphasized the importance of the CFO taking a pro-active role in cleaning up the messes sometimes left by other senior leaders.”
Ryan was born in Milwaukee in 1928 and raised in Merrill, Wisc., the eldest of six children of Frank and Olive Ryan. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in mathematics from Marquette University, which he attended on a naval ROTC scholarship. He served on the USS Philip during the Korean conflict.
While stationed at Pearl Harbor, Ryan met and married Betty Aspinwall. They moved to Olympia, Wash., after he was honorably discharged in 1953, and raised four children.
He worked as a budget researcher and chief analyst for the state Tax Commissioner’s office from 1953-1960 and, after a stint at the University of Washington, served as emergency interim budget director under Gov. Dan Evans. He moved back to the university, where he retired in 1985 as vice president for business and finance and manager of the university’s metropolitan tract projects. He was appointed to the Washington State Investment Board from 1988 until retiring in 1993.
Widowed in 1986, Ryan met and married Lari Bowman of Vashon Island. In retirement, he was an accomplished woodworker and carpenter as well as a world traveler. Although he battled Parkinson’s disease for the last 17 years, the couple continued to dine with old friends from the Hutch whenever they visited Seattle from their home in Tacoma. His last public appearance at the Hutch was at a memorial service for Nobel laureate Dr. E. Donnall Thomas in 2012.
“He loved the Hutch,” said Lari Ryan. “Jim was very proud of what they accomplished.”
In addition to his wife, Ryan is survived by children Frank, Tim (Cathy), Sue Bruns (Greg) and Cindy Peterson (Don); stepchildren Lari Jane Rumpp (Stephen) and Trip Taylor; grandchildren Sam and Hayley Peterson and Savanna and Tiana Ryan; and step-grandchildren Ian and Isabel Rumpp. He is also survived by sisters Rose Akey, Mary Ann Kretlow, Ruth Schoetz and brother Joe Ryan. His was predeceased by his brother Patrick.
A private funeral mass was held March 12 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Tacoma. Remembrances may be considered for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and/or the American Parkinson Research Center.
Mary Engel is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Previously, she covered medicine and health policy for the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. She was also a fellow at the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. Follow her on Twitter @Engel140.