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Shirley Ryan’s boundless energy has improved the lives of countless people throughout metropolitan Chicago. As a member of the Trust’s Executive Committee from 1988 to 1998, Ryan’s passions both inside and outside the Trust have made a major impact on any number of important areas.

“How do you measure your life?” she has asked. “You measure your life by how many people you’ve helped.” The arts, children and education are three of her most important areas of philanthropic focus.

Philanthropist Shirley Ryan: “You measure your life by how many people you’ve helped.”

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In particular, Ryan’s efforts have made great strides in assisting persons with disabilities. Ryan cofounded the Pathways outpatient pediatric clinic in 1985. Because each year hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of developing motor delay, Pathways empowers young parents to raise healthy children. Simultaneously, the program provides content to the American Academy of Pediatrics for its continuing medical education programs.

Ryan’s son, Corbett, overcame disabilities to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. But “to emphasize my son, it’s not the perspective of the parents who are walking this walk, [it’s] the children who have a right to learn,” Ryan says. Her tireless efforts in this regard have led to two U.S. presidents appointing her to an advisory role at the National Council on Disability in Washington.

Shirley Ryan with Mayor Richard M. Daley
As Executive Committee chair from 1997-1998, Shirley Ryan accepts a charitable contribution to the Trust from Mayor Richard M. Daley and Maggie Daley

The span of Ryan’s interests is manifested on the institutions she has supported throughout her career: Lyric Opera, the Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University (her alma mater), WTTW, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and many others.