Jim Ryan, a Kings Park father of three who achieved a lifelong dream when he became a New York City firefighter, died Christmas morning of pancreatic cancer, an illness he believed was caused by his months of service in the toxic dust at Ground Zero. Ryan was 48.
Mike Ryan said his younger brother underwent major surgery after being diagnosed in 2006, determined to beat the disease. For a time he appeared to be winning, Ryan said, but the cancer returned in 2008.
"I used to think he was stubborn," he said. "Then I realized later in life he was unyielding. He just refused to give up."
Mike Ryan said his brother was known to have a fighting spirit and a great sense of humor, on full display the night before he was to have his surgery in May 2006. Jim Ryan's doctor, his brother said, came to check on the patient.
"He said, 'I want to make sure you're game ready,' " Mike Ryan recalled the doctor saying. "And he said, 'I want to make sure you're game ready.' "
Jim Ryan was born in Bellerose, Queens, where he attended elementary school. After graduating from St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, he enrolled at Iona College. He graduated in 1983.
Mike Ryan said his brother worked for an insurance company after college, but was not satisfied. In 1995, he realized his ambition of joining the FDNY.
"When we were kids, our heroes were cops and firemen," Mike said. "And he always wanted to be a fireman. When he got on, my brother became the most content man in the world."
Jim Ryan's first firehouse was Engine Company 320 / Ladder Company 167 on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens. It was from there he joined the first responders descending on Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks.
Mike Ryan said his brother spent six months on the pile at Ground Zero, working in a soup of the "most toxic stuff that you could imagine." His brother, and his brother's surgeon, Mike Ryan said, had no doubt his cancer was connected.
Though the City of New York doesn't consider Jim Ryan's death to have resulted from work done in the line of duty, Mike Ryan said fellow firefighters had showed Jim tributes that are customary for one who had.
In addition to Mike, 50, of Centerport, Jim Ryan is survived by his wife, Magda; two sons, ages 17 and 15, and a daughter, 9; another brother, Bob, 51, of Glendale, Ariz., and a sister, Maureen Miller, 52, of Bellerose.
A wake will continue Monday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Brueggemann Funeral Home, 522 Larkfield Rd., East Northport. Ryan's funeral will be 11 a.m. Tuesday at Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, Fort Salonga.