He’d been studying history and political science at the University of Missouri, with a goal of becoming a teacher. But in 1956, as he was driving from St. Louis to Columbia, he was in a head-on collision. He woke up in the hospital eight days later, and in the months of recovery and rehabilitation that followed, he missed a good many of his classes. To stay on his graduation schedule, he switched to a degree program that included law school.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to practice law, but I knew I wanted a legal education,” said Ryan, now a retired circuit judge and mediator.
Ryan graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1961. By November 1962, he was working for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Daniel P. Reardon, and by 1963 he was trying criminal cases.
In 1969 Ryan was appointed circuit attorney, and in 1972 he was elected to the position. But when then-Gov. Kit Bond vetoed a pay-raise measure that affected circuit attorneys, Ryan said he considered its impact on his wife and children and decided it was time to go into private practice.
With his high school friend John King, Ryan established a firm that handled everything from zoning and real estate to tax issues. Ryan handled most of the trial work until he left the firm in 1979 due to his appointment to circuit court in St. Louis.
Ryan spent 20 years — and some months, he adds — on the bench. For years, he kept track of details of cases in which he presided on legal pads — the attorney’s names, the amounts requested, the expert witnesses — all meticulously written by hand.
Toward the end of his judicial service, Ryan was offered a speaking spot at a seminar for mediators. It would inspire the next stage of his career.
Ryan estimates he’s handled nearly 3,000 mediations, and he said his experience as an attorney and judge has helped him as a mediator. As in every other phase of his professional life, more days than not he enjoys going to work.
In the past few years, however, he said the pace of his work has slowed. While he has no official retirement date, Ryan said other attorneys will let him know when to do so — the calls for his services will stop.
And then, Ryan said, he’ll be on to the next chapter of his career of 50-plus years. His wife won’t let him sit around the house too much, he said, and that is fine with him.
“Every time I’ve made a career change, I’ve enjoyed the new job more than the old,” he said.