Terry Ryan

Photo added by All for my Dita

Terry Ryan

  • Birth 14 Jul 1946
  • Death 16 May 2007
  • Burial Unknown
  • Memorial ID 19467849

Terry Ryan, 60, author of the bestselling 2001 memoir "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less," died of brain cancer Wednesday at her home in San Francisco, said Pat Holt, her partner of 24 years.

A graduate of Bowling Green State University in Ohio who moved to San Francisco in the early '70s, Ryan was a longtime technical writer, book editor and poet.

She also teamed with artist Sylvia Mollick on "T.O. Sylvester," a cartoon that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Book Review from 1983 to 1999.

Holt, the Chronicle's former book editor and critic, said Ryan had tried writing a number of versions of her memoir "but couldn't get the voice right or the story right because she hadn't seen the primary source material."

That changed after her mother died in 1998 at 85.

While Ryan and her siblings were cleaning out their mother's house, Ryan uncovered a stash of material that would provide her book with rich detail: Her mother had kept copies of all the contest entry forms and letters of congratulations that she had received over the years, as well as the 24 notebooks she had filled with every jingle she wrote.

"I knew when I found all that stuff I could really do her justice," Ryan told the Oregonian. "It was like she was leaving her story behind for me to tell. My brothers and sisters helped me remember what it was like for us and how for my mother there was never a poverty of spirit or of mind."

Born July 14, 1946, Ryan was the sixth of Evelyn and Kelly Ryan's 10 children and spent her early years living with her family in what has been described as a "tumbledown frame house."

As Evelyn raised her children, contended with her husband's alcohol-fueled rages and struggled to make ends meet with her contest entries, she displayed an enviable capacity for joy.

"It was not a life of hardship at all," Terry Ryan told the London Daily Telegraph in 2001. "We were a chaotic family, but we didn't know any different. There was no privacy of any kind: no bed of your own, let alone a bedroom. Even your clothes were only yours for a little while, before they were passed on to the next child."

Meanwhile, the contest prizes continued to arrive: roller skates, radios, kitchen clocks, winter coats, Maidenform bras.

Evelyn frequently traded or sold her prizes for cash to pay for doctors' bills, the children's school clothes and the mortgage payment. And more than once, a prize seemed to show up miraculously just when one was needed.

The family was facing eviction in 1953 when Evelyn won a Western Auto contest grand prize that included a washer and dryer, a bicycle and $5,000, which she used as a down payment on a new house.

And in 1965, when the bank called in a second mortgage that her husband had secretly taken out, Evelyn saved the family home from foreclosure with a winning Dr Pepper jingle that earned her a Ford Mustang, two Longines watches, a trip to Switzerland and $3,440 in cash.

Ryan's book was adapted for the 2005 movie of the same name, starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson as Evelyn and Kelly Ryan.

"I've never seen a piece of literature or a film deal with a housewife in quite this way," Jane Anderson, the film's director and screenwriter, told The Times in 2005.

"Usually the pieces I've read or seen involving a woman stuck in a household … those characters succumb to despair or rage. I was astounded to read a piece that goes against every feminist bone in my body."

By the time Ryan finished writing her memoir, Anderson said, "she understood that her mother was a woman of independent happiness. She intelligently and deliberately found a way to accept her situation and not only to endure it but also to find joy in it."

Holt said Ryan inherited her mother's sense of humor and resilience.

In 2004 — two weeks after completion of filming the movie, in which the real Ryan children appeared at the end — Ryan was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain.

"When she was diagnosed, after the initial shock and kind of terrible feeling, she sat back and said, 'Well, my old life is over and my new life is just beginning,' " Holt said. "And that's really the way she lived the next 2 1/2 years. She never complained and had a sense of the present, [knowing that] every moment was a gift."

In addition to Holt, Ryan is survived by her six brothers and three sisters.

See more Ryan memorials in:





  • Created by: Laurie
  • Added: 20 May 2007
  • Find A Grave Memorial 19467849
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Terry Ryan (14 Jul 1946–16 May 2007), Find A Grave Memorial no. 19467849, ; Maintained by Laurie (contributor 2811407) Unknown.