Alumnus Focused on Giving Back

Just as he was helped along the way, new Visiting Committee member Richard Ryan has a desire to help others achieve their goals. The retired president of DEKALB Genetics and later vice president of Monsanto, an international agri-business firm, earned his MBA (’66) from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“There’s a certain satisfaction in helping others when I’ve also been helped,” said Ryan. “I started out with very humble beginnings and have been successful due to a combination of hard work, good luck, and some good timing. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to pass along some of my gifts to those less fortunate.”

Ryan, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma 10 years ago, said he also has a desire to support researchers who are working to improve outcomes for patients like him. After attending various conferences on lymphoma research, Ryan met Sonali Smith, MD, a UChicago expert in the care and treatment of adults with Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Impressed by her work, he decided to fund several fellowships under her leadership.

“I’m confident that with her direction, rapid advancements will be made, and hopefully this support will have a continuing impact over the years,” he said.

As a Visiting Committee member, Ryan is hopeful that his involvement will also be impactful over time. He decided to join the Committee to heighten his awareness of medical research as well as to help advance the Committee’s mission by supporting future students and doctors, who will in turn advance the medical community.

In addition to being an alumnus, Ryan’s connection to the University of Chicago is also through Jim Frank, a Trustee of the University of Chicago Medical Center since 1992. After attending a private dinner at the Frank’s home, Jim always made sure Ryan was invited to UChicago events, which Ryan said was greatly appreciated.

When Ryan—who grew up on a farm near Mount Sterling, Illinois—is not supporting UChicago events, he can be found playing his piano or attending one of Chicago’s symphony orchestras or operas.

“When you grow up in these country settings, the radio is the principal source of entertainment, recalled Ryan. “And I would listen to the Saturday afternoon operas from the Metropolitan Opera with my mother. But we also had a lot of neighborhood gatherings and I remember as a boy, one of the ladies would play honky tonk melodies on the piano.” Despite the fact that the piano was old and out of tune, Ryan was thrilled with what could be accomplished on the instrument.

“I often think if it weren’t for that lady, who always had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth with ashes dropping on the keys, that I would never have gone as far as I have with music,” he quipped.

Ryan would later attend a semester abroad at the University of Vienna, where he continued to play piano and attend concerts and operas with such renowned performers as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. “Today I support all of the Chicago music organizations and it’s also where I met several of the current Visiting Committee members,” he added.

October 2015