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The extraordinary life of John Patrick (Jack) Ryan ’72
Save through mention in class notes, Boston College Magazine does not generally report the deaths of alumni. There are, however, some graduates whose ties to the University are so widely known that it would be improper to send them off trailing nothing but a three-line life summation. Such is the case with John Patrick (Jack) Ryan ’72, former Marine Corps officer, stockbroker, national security advisor, Naval Academy faculty member, CIA analyst, and president and vice president of the United States—the only alumnus, fictional or not, to be portrayed by Alec Baldwin or Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck, not to mention all three.
Mr. Ryan’s presumed passing is connected to the real death of his imaginer, Tom Clancy, the former Baltimore insurance salesman who died on October 1, at age 66, having published 12 novels featuring Mr. Ryan that sold a combined 100 million copies (so far). Within these books, Mr. Ryan repelled KGB operatives and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the bad-guy American president Edward Kealty, and the invidious Eastern European operative Paul (né Pavel) Laska, all the while holding not only weapons of wide-ranging power, but a Boston College economics degree (with a minor in history).
Mr. Ryan, who was 62 or 63—the Ryan testament, while voluminous, is unclear on this detail—was said to have been raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and to have been educated by the nuns at the St. Matthew’s parish school. He later studied, it’s further said, at Loyola Blakefield, in nearby Towson. Mr. Ryan’s father was a policeman and his mother a nurse, and, like many a striving son of the mid-20th-century Catholic working class, he selected a Jesuit university education. And while he’d hoped to play football at Boston College (he’d played varsity at Loyola Blakefield) he resigned himself to the fact that he “wasn’t big enough for college ball.”
As a 1972 graduate of Boston College, Mr. Ryan would have experienced the turmoil of 1970, when students boycotted classes in protest of a tuition increase and then in protest of the invasion of Cambodia by American troops and the shootings at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. He would also have been a student when the ROTC office was despoiled by a small group of students. Whether these events had any influence on his subsequent career and political views is a matter on which his amanuensis chose not to comment.
Though Mr. Ryan would later joke that he went to Boston College because its degree (along with that of the College of the Holy Cross) was the surest ticket to a job as an FBI agent, he began a career as a certified public accountant shortly after graduation. His subsequent rise through the military and intelligence services to the Oval Office is too well-known to repeat here.
Mr. Ryan did not speak often of his alma mater, but never spoke of her except in praise, opining once that his courses in metaphysics had served him well. “The Jesuits,” he said to a friend, “make you spend a semester on [metaphysics].” Adding after sipping at a handy cocktail, “Whether you want to or not.” Mr. Ryan was similarly disposed regarding his logic course at Boston College. Once, after a fellow case officer, an Ivy League graduate, had offended him by exercising a “circularity” of logic, Mr. Ryan mused that the logic course at Yale was “probably an elective,” as compared with “mandatory” study at Boston College. But if Mr. Ryan seemed relatively reticent about his University experience, he paid the institution the grandest compliment possible by sending his son and namesake to study at Chestnut Hill. (Unfortunately, the details of John Patrick Ryan, Jr.’s career at the University are nowhere to be found in the Clancy corpus.)
As to the Society of Jesus, so instrumental in Mr. Ryan’s education from high school to the completion of his doctoral thesis at Georgetown University, Mr. Ryan once remarked, “Us Jesuit products run the world—we’re just humble about it.”
Mr. Ryan was featured in four movies and four video games. He leaves (apparently) his wife, Caroline, and their children, Olivia, John, Jr., Kathleen, and Kyle. Whatever services are held will (one imagines) follow publication of Command Authority (A Jack Ryan Novel), which had been completed at the time of Mr. Ryan’s (in all likelihood) passing, and is scheduled for release in December.
Read more by Ben Birnbaum