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Ex-Illinois first lady Lura Lynn Ryan dies

CHICAGO -- Lura Lynn Ryan, the former Illinois first lady who spent the waning years of her life seeking freedom for imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan, quietly spent her final moments with her husband of 55 years at her side.

She died late Monday evening at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee after a long bout with cancer, said Kankakee County Coroner Robert Gessner. She was 76.

Ryan had been released from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Ind., to spend several hours with her on Monday, one of four times since January the prison's warden has used his discretion to allow the former governor to see his ailing wife. Ryan's requests were repeatedly denied by the courts.

"It was enormously important to him and to her," said Ryan attorney and former Gov. Jim Thompson. "They've been together all their lives really."

Lura Lynn Ryan had been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized last week because she was having trouble breathing. She was placed on a respirator last week and taken off it Monday night after it appeared nothing else could be done, Thompson said.

She was a steadfast supporter of the former governor, whom she had met in high school, and maintained that he had never done anything wrong during his lengthy political career.

They met as teenagers and had six children together, including a set of triplets. Friends described the couple as "nearly inseparable." "If you could approach Lura Lynn, you were approaching George," said Tony Leone, a family friend and former aide to George Ryan. "She was always at his side."

The former governor, serving time on federal corruption charges, was quietly escorted from the Indiana prison to be with her four separate times about 130 miles away. The first was in January to the intensive care unit at a Kankakee hospital. He was let out when she began chemotherapy and again over the weekend when her health took a turn for the worse. Each visit lasted only a few hours, Thompson said.

Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke declined to comment.

Ryan was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, and has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

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