Former Observer editor Mike Ryan dies

Like most people over the age of 30, I will never forget where I was on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

It was going to be a typical day, although there was really nothing typical for a journalist.

I was at work in the office when Observer editor Mike Ryan drew my attention to a small television screen in the back room of our dig on Sara Road, telling me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.

And while I initially dismissed it as pilot error, that dismissal became absolute horror when a second plane slammed into the other tower and the nation was in turmoil.

That’s the kind of editor Ryan was – keeping his thumb on the pulse, not just of the city of vision, but of the nation itself. Often, he would come to work talking about what he heard on a treadmill at Defined Fitness, having chatted with the city’s early 21st century movers.

Ryan, whose health was declining, died on July 10, a day after his 81st birthday. Services will be held Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, followed by a reception at the family home.

Genie Blair Ryan, his wife of 38 years, said her husband had been an advertising manager for Tucson newspapers “and when he went to work for Wick, they made him editor in Rio Rancho, and we moved here in January 1988.”

The Ryans and Rio Rancho were like another married couple.

“I think Mike was very passionate about the community and it kind of became the life of our whole family. We were very involved in that community,” she said. “I think there were 28,000 when we moved here, so we were here for a lot of the growth – and he loved it.

“He lived in Rio Rancho and the Observer. It was about what a community newspaper should be – part of the community,” she said. “And we got very involved in creating the school district, and it became a whole community thing. We were kind of all in this together.

“Mike and Genie, to me, will always be the Observer,“said former Rio Rancho police officer Steve Shaw.

That seems to be the general sentiment.

Tom Swisstack remembers meeting during his first term as mayor of the city.

“My first experience with the Observer it was during the campaign. Mike Ryan and staff have always been objective and looked at issues related to Rio Rancho, its growth and the surrounding communities,” he said. “When you have a local newspaper, you always wonder if it’s good to be biased one way or the other.

“My heart always knew he was objective in his reporting, not editorial. He was a very nice person,” Swisstack added. “Many times it would be at his house and Genie for a social function, or run into them (in a restaurant) and we would still have a dialogue, about politics or the growth of the city.”

Former JCPenney call center manager Terry Hibler said after moving to Rio Rancho, his children and the Ryans’ son Christopher became friends.

“Mike and I quickly became friends. I got to know him pretty well, with my role in the chamber,” Hibler said. “Mike and I talked about everything from family to politics to religion, whatever. What I respect about Mike is what you see is what you get: a man of integrity, who listens well and who is intelligent.

“It broke my heart to hear the news,” said Hibler, a resident of McKinney, Texas. “We came over in April and sat down with him and Genie. I spoke to him on the phone, probably every month. He was one of my two or three best friends when I lived there, 22 or 23 years ago.

Susan Saunier, a Observer advertising, says he had the chance to work for 10 years for Ryan, “a real press man.

“He was so much a part of Rio Rancho that people often assumed he and Genie owned the newspaper,” she said. “He had an open door policy and welcomed anyone who wanted to come in to chat or complain.

“The office was a lively, inviting and bustling place to work, as it set the tone for community interaction with his newspaper. I can imagine him with his camera around his neck, going out to take a picture or shoveling snow into his suit,” Saunier said. “Every Christmas he made sure the paperboys threw a party because, he said, ‘We can all do our job, but without the paperboys, the newspapers don’t reach our readers. Mike really had ink in his veins, a phrase he taught me about all of us who work in print. He was a passionate man who loved his family, his faith, his community and the Observer.”

Sometimes being the editor of a newspaper could be bittersweet, but that didn’t matter to Ryan, who was eventually fired from his job by Wick Communications in July 2002 and replaced two months later by Shane Maddox.

“He wasn’t afraid to take a stand, so we dealt a lot with people who were mad at us,” Genie said. “He was involved in all kinds of organizations, but we also had a lot of fun. He fought for the things he cared about.

The three main things he treasured, she said, were “faith, family and community.”

Mike Ryan was also the instigator of the annual painting of a huge green clover in the early hours of each March 17 at Sara Road and Southern Road, “and he was very proud of it,” Genie said.

In addition to Genie and Christopher, he is also survived by his son, Tim, and daughter, Kellie Price, his children from a previous marriage and a large extended family.