We said goodbye to a fine, gentle man last week.
He left us much, much too early. He was just 63.
His death was sudden, adding to the intensity of the loss we all felt.
He was a man who took great pride in his work, but never sought accolades. He just wanted to get the job done. Perhaps some would say he was a workaholic.
He was a man with an enormous work ethic, who also loved to play, to have fun. He smiled. A lot. That smile coupled with a mischievous twinkle in his eye will be what many will remember the most.
He was a man who quietly rose to the occasion of what life placed in his path.
He loved. He made mistakes. He was, after all, human with human frailties.
But his greatness was in how he dealt with people, how he treated them. His greatness was in the respect he had for people, especially those who worked for and with him.
In a tribute to John (Jack) Ryan, the words used to describe him by those who knew him — friends, family and co-workers — were poetic in their simplicity.
Perhaps a testament to just how much he touched others were the sheer number of men who felt his loss so deeply that they wept openly, some barely keeping their grief inside, others not bothering to hide their pain. These were rough-and-tumble construction workers. They do not cry. They most certainly do not cry in front of each other. Some unwritten code. Last week, they did.
Perhaps also a testament was the way they felt compelled to speak about their friend — to share their thoughts in front of a room filled with people gathered to pay tribute to John Ryan. This was not something any of them had done often or perhaps ever before.
John gave me a job, one worker said. And in between the lines we heard: John gave me a second chance. But then John Ryan believed in second chances.
He inspired others to have confidence in him and in themselves. He gave people breaks. He knew people were not perfect. He knew he wasn’t. He treated them fairly. He made a difference in lives. He knew a job equated to a hand up.
This day was doubly difficult for so many, who had lost not one, but two friends, two coworkers. John Ryan had passed away suddenly after one of his colleagues, Harry Gedge, an accomplished finished carpenter, died tragically in a workplace accident on a downtown St. John’s construction site.
Mr. Gedge and Mr. Ryan had worked together on several construction projects. Both were veterans of the industry. One a superintendent, the other a union shop steward. Both respected by their co-workers. Both took pride in their jobs.
Their deaths had the entire construction industry in shock and mourning last week. My union colleagues deeply mourned both Harry Gedge, a 25-year member of the Carpenters Local 579, and John Ryan. This in it itself said something.
Those who worked for and with him respected John Ryan. He was not one who needed the power of being the boss to fill a void, to feed a sense of insecurity.
Perhaps this is because John Ryan did not manage people from a position of power, but rather from a position of respect.
One just didn’t want John Ryan to look at you with disappointment, but rather one craved his approval, his returned respect.
On the outside, he was always calm. Others panicked. John Ryan soothed their fears about potentially missed deadlines. But this was a man who oversaw multi-million-dollar construction jobs. He felt stress. He just didn’t show it.
As I listened to people talk about the John Ryan they knew and loved, I was reminded how little people want from life. A good job. Respect for the work they do. A kind word. Fairness. And in return, you get loyalty, deep respect and love.
I had known John (Jack) Ryan for nearly 30 years. We share family. We were family. I knew that if ever I needed help, I could count on John Ryan. Really count on him. In a world of such uncertainty, people like John Ryan brought stability. Many counted on him.
Kahlil Gibran wrote: “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
John Ryan was a kind, gentle man. He was a good friend, a leader in the workplace, a father and stepfather, a brother, a partner and a dear poppy. And he will be missed. Greatly and deeply missed.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation
of Labour. She can be reached by email
Her column returns Nov. 17.