Charles J. Ryan Jr., House committee chief

January 22, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Charles J. Ryan Jr., whose love of government and affable Irish ways propelled him into one of the most powerful jobs in Maryland's General Assembly, died yesterday at Prince George's Hospital Center after a heart attack. He was 57.

Elected in 1978 to represent Bowie in the House of Delegates, Mr. Ryan rose to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for six years. He presided over the tumultuous budget and tax debate that divided the legislature during the early years of this decade.

Though he was frequently mentioned as a leading candidate to become House speaker, Mr. Ryan instead resigned from the legislature in 1992 after becoming embroiled in a power struggle with the man who held the job, then-House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Kent Democrat.

Using the kind of the face-saving approach he favored when engineering political compromises, Mr. Ryan found a smooth way out of the dilemma for himself and Mr. Mitchell, a longtime friend. Mr. Ryan left the House voluntarily to take a newly created, $80,000-a-year job as legislative lobbyist for the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Mr. Ryan was remembered by his former colleagues yesterday for his creative approach to fiscal matters and mourned by those who recalled his easygoing ways and his zest for the job. Politics and government were one in Mr. Ryan's mind, and to him it was all fun.

"Buzz Ryan represented the best of what it is to be a public servant, and it's hard to believe he's no longer with us," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who campaigned for Mr. Ryan's re-election in 1990.

Mr. Ryan's colleagues, particularly his fellow Irishmen from Prince George's County, remembered his saltier side, a man who loved good sports, bad food and someone else's cigarettes.

He savored his Boston roots, poked fun at himself with a sign that read, "No Irish Need Apply," and kept a picture on his wall of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

"He worshiped the Boston Red Sox, Tip O'Neill, Jesuits, the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party, in that order," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's Democrat. "Buzz Ryan once said his affection for the Red Sox had given him a great sense of humor, and a sense that there is always a 'next year.' "

Mr. Ryan remained a New Deal Democrat even as times and the economy changed. He believed in government programs, and believed his job, in part, was to assure that the state watched out for its most disadvantaged residents. Such views made him a target not only of Republicans, who resented his support for higher taxes in 1992, but also of conservative Democrats, who thought he was too reluctant to cut government programs.

But Mr. Maloney, a friend and supporter, said, "We would not have made it out of the fiscal crisis without Buzzy."

Mr. Ryan seemed to enjoy the company of everyone, flying to games in Fenway Park with staffers, or kibitzing with reporters in his tiny chairman's office. There, through the blue haze of cigarette smoke, he would sip one diet cola after another and spin political tales.

Yesterday, both houses of the General Assembly adjourned in ** his memory, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer ordered Maryland flags flown at half-staff on state buildings.

A wake will be held tomorrow from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Beall-Evans Funeral Home, 16000 Annapolis Road in Bowie. A Mass of Christian burial will be held Monday at 10 a.m., at the Sacred Heart Church, 16501 Annapolis Road in Bowie.

Mr. Ryan was born in Southbridge, Mass., on Sept. 15, 1936. He was a graduate of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and received a master's of arts degree from the University of Maryland. He also graduated from the Program for Senior Executives at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

He is survived by his former wife, Michele King Ryan of Bowie; a daughter and a son, Kimberly M. Ryan and Charles J. Ryan III, both of Bowie; a granddaughter, Shannon E. Ryan; and three brothers, William Ryan of Danielson, Conn., John Bruce Ryan of Atlanta, and P. Barry Ryan of Randolph, Mass.

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