Obituary: William Ryan

Beloved brother, poet, and friend

William (“Bill”) Ryan died in Claremont on December 7, 2022. He was 71.

He is survived by his brothers Michael Ryan of Claremont, Jeff Van Voorhis of La Verne, Roy Nelson of Scottsdale, Arizona, and sister Debbie Ryan of Goodlettsville, Tennessee.

Born on August 13, 1951 in Oak Park, Illinois, Bill moved as a young boy with his family first to Pomona in the late 1950s and later to Claremont in 1966. He was a highly gifted child, learning to speak at an early age and later convincing his mother to let him work as an extra in various movies and TV shows (often with his brother Michael), including “Gunsmoke,” “My Three Sons,” and even a Winston-Salem cigarette commercial. After these experiences, he developed a love for movies that he retained for the rest of his life. He also developed an interest in science at a young age, exchanging correspondence with a physicist at Caltech and discussing alternative theories of the universe in a sophisticated way that demonstrated his high IQ.

In his early 20s he worked at Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. While there, he wrote hundreds of poems, almost one every evening after work, revealing an exceptional talent for creative writing.

Unfortunately, in January 1976, coming home from Fermilab one night during a blizzard, his car skidded on the ice. In the accident, he suffered severe cerebral trauma. Rushed to a trauma center in Chicago, he was not expected to live. He went into a coma that lasted seven weeks. While he was still in a coma, the La Verne Church of the Brethren paid for him to be flown back to Casa Colina Rehabilitation Hospital in Pomona. There, he gradually emerged from the coma and received extensive physical therapy, which he continued at home with assistance from a former nurse and family friend, Georgia Bennett.

He lived at home for the next 33 years with his mother Sandy and stepfather Don Van Voorhis, who did everything possible to assist in his recovery and rehabilitation. Although calcium deposits that developed during the coma had locked his hips in place, he was eventually able to use a walker. After Don died in 2002, he continued his daily exercise regimen with his mother’s strong encouragement. Although the brain trauma he had experienced meant that he could not remember the accident or anything from the months before, his humor and memory of details about things that he loved — lyrics to Bob Dylan’s songs, trivia about favorite movies, science, and science fiction (including Star Trek) — remained intact. He was an extrovert who took great joy in discussing these things with everyone he met.

While he was able, he loved to attend Church of the Brethren services, and with his mother, went to hear all of his brother Michael Ryan’s concerts. His brother Jeff often took him to concerts in Los Angeles to see some of his favorite performers, including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. And he never missed Michael’s musical performances with Ken Soderland and Hai Muradian every week at Casa de Salsa (now Elvira’s Grill) restaurant in Claremont.

After his mother died in 2009, his brother Michael arranged for him to receive home care from Georgine and Jim Pagnucco of La Verne, both of whom became close family friends. He was there for many years, but after changes in his medical situation required surgery, he moved to a skilled nursing facility in Pomona until he could transition to Claremont Hacienda, a nursing facility in Claremont.

“It was a great blessing that Bill could remain in Claremont, so that Georgine could continue to visit him, along with Michael and his wife Lisa and Jeff and his wife Barbara and daughter Ashley,” his family shared. “Even at the height of the pandemic, they would stand outside and talk to him through his window.”

Later, Georgine also arranged for him to call her every Wednesday night at Walter’s Restaurant in Claremont so that he could hear Michael, Ken, and Hai play at their weekly performances there. Michael took his special request every week: usually for him to play Malagueña on the guitar, or to sing some of his favorite songs, especially “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, or Michael’s song that Bill loved, “California.”

Although Roy lived in Arizona, he and his wife Julie would call him several times a week to discuss a wide range of topics that he found fascinating, ranging from movies, music, the search for extraterrestrial life, and possible future plans to colonize the moon and Mars.

In his last years, even as he became less mobile and increasingly confined to his bed, he always remained upbeat and positive. What struck everyone who knew him in his last years was how positive he was, no matter what his circumstances. After long conversations with his brothers or friends, his favorite expression was something he borrowed from Spock in Star Trek, a cheerful “Live long and prosper!”

“Bill would want everyone he knew to carry on at least part of the happy, joyful spirit that stayed with him throughout his life,” his family added.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 22 at the La Verne Church of the Brethren, 2425 E St, La Verne 91750.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to La Verne Church of the Brethren at, Greenpeace at, or Save the Whales at


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