MSA Member Passes – Patricia Ryan, Boothbay Maine

Patricia   Ryan
  June   18, 1938 – Dec. 27, 2013


Patricia   Ryan, 75, of Boothbay, the first woman to be the editor of a major American weekly   magazine, died Dec. 27 at her home.
  She and her husband, Ray Cave, summered and then lived in Boothbay for more   than 50 years.
  During a 30-year career at Time Inc., she rose from the secretarial pool to   become the managing editor of both People and Life magazines.
  Quiet and self-effacing, gentle and considerate of others, Ms. Ryan’s caring   manner masked a steely determination that girded her climb at the   overwhelmingly male Time Inc. of her day. Before Pat Ryan, all top editors of   the company’s many magazines — including Time, Life, Fortune, Sports   Illustrated, Money, and People — were men, and that included most of all its   junior editors as well. So were most of its hundreds of writers. Ms. Ryan, a   trailblazer, who never complained of the difficulty of the path, helped make   it possible for untold numbers of other women to follow her to the top in   publishing.
  She was handed the reins of People magazine in 1982 by then Time Inc.   Editor-in-Chief Henry Grunwald. Not only was she the first woman asked to   edit one of the venerable company’s prized weeklies, but she also would be   following its celebrated founding editor, Richard B. Stolley. The   eight-year-old magazine’s continued success was not a sure thing, and it was   being entrusted to a woman. All eyes in the company would be upon her, and   some were not friendly.
  Pat Ryan could seem like one of the boys. She had spent 18 years at Sports   Illustrated. Hired as a secretary in 1960, she soon caught the eye of SI’s   managing editor, Andre Laguerre.
  She was born June 18, 1938 in southeastern Pennsylvania, the daughter of   Oonah and James E. Ryan. Her father was a noted trainer of racehorses, an   Irish immigrant whose talents were sought by such renowned thoroughbred   owners as the Mellons and DuPonts. Pat followed her father as he nurtured his   charges and took them to run at premier racetracks throughout America.
  The girl watched and learned, and learned quickly. She graduated from high   school at 16, then went to New York to study at the Katherine Gibbs School,   which trained women for secretarial work, one of the few career paths open to   them. She later would graduate with a B.A. in history from Columbia   University’s School of General Studies. She worked first as a secretary at   the Jockey Club at Belmont Park racetrack on Long Island before landing a job   at Sports Illustrated.
  Then she got her first break. One day the grooms went on strike at Belmont.   Laguerre, finding all his reporters were off on other assignments, sought out   the young secretary with horse sense. He sent her to Belmont Park. Her first   story appeared, and Pat Ryan’s career was off and running. She was soon   promoted from secretary to reporter.
  Her rise was steady, from reporter to writer to senior editor, eventually   taking charge of the magazine’s “Bonus” section, the showcase for   its best writing. There she distinguished herself for her patient handling of   the magazine’s most rambunctious talent.
  Despite her accomplishments, she was not an obvious choice to edit People. As   Ms. Ryan herself admitted, she seldom watched TV, only occasionally caught a   movie, and disdained most popular entertainment. The magazine enjoyed a   strong reporting and fact-checking tradition and prided itself on its   accuracy (it never has been successfully sued). Its journalistic ethic was   the same as that of its sibling magazines Time and Life.
  People remained, however, the Rodney Dangerfield of magazines. No matter how   many profiles of doctors, artists, priests, scholars, etc. that it published   — and such reporting comprised 60 percent of each issue — it was known only   for the famous faces on its cover. People got no respect.
  Pat Ryan was determined to change that. She wanted to deepen its reporting   and expand its breadth. Under her leadership the magazine pushed into new   territory. It reported on the parents of a Texas teenager accused of murder.   It investigated sexual harassment on campus. It reported the struggles of a   Catholic priest to operate a shelter in Nicaragua for children orphaned by   that country’s civil war.
  In 1985 it published the first of many cover stories on AIDS — one of the   first mass-market magazines to do so — articles that may have done more than   any others to alert the country to that rising scourge. It even devoted an   entire issue to life in the Soviet Union, completely reported and   photographed in that distant and then-menacing nation.
  More serious articles didn’t mean Ms. Ryan neglected celebrity. In 1985 she   also created the popular “Sexiest Man Alive” feature, which has   become a profitable franchise for People — not to mention an annual fount of   jokes for late-night comedians.
  Her work was noticed. In 1984, along with TV newswoman Diane Sawyer and   author Susan Brownmiller, Pat Ryan received the Matrix Award from New York   Women in Communications “for demonstrating inspirational leadership in   advancing the role of women.” In 1987, People received a National   Magazine Award for General Excellence, the only one it ever has won, from the   American Society of Magazine Editors.
  The magazine became ever more prosperous. During her time at the helm, its   circulation rose dramatically. Eventually it would become the most profitable   magazine in history.
  After leaving Time Inc. in 1989, she and Ray Cave, former managing editor of   Time and her companion since the 1960s, retired to their home in Maine, where   they soon married. They traveled widely, fished often, and watched every   sunset. They were setting off to fish one morning last October on Canada’s   Miramichi River when Ms. Ryan inexplicably fell down. Subsequent medical   examinations discovered the cancer that eventually claimed her.
  She is survived by Mr. Ray Cave; stepchildren, Jon and Catherine Cave;   brother, Owen Ryan; and sister Oonah, a Catholic nun.
  A memorial service will be held at a later date.
  In lieu of flowers the family would like donations made to the Coastal Maine   Botanical Gardens, 132 Botanical Dr., Boothbay, ME 04537.
  You are invited to share your condolences, memories, and photos with the   family by visiting their Book of Memories page at
  Arrangements are entrusted to Simmons, Harrington & Hall, Boothbay.