November 30, 1955 - September 8, 2020
My father, Patrick Ryan, my dad – it’s hard to know how to refer to him now that he’s gone. The process of understanding all the ways he left an imprint on my life will continue until I pass away, but now is a time to reflect on some of those ways. My dad always made the best of his circumstances, a trait that remained fully in effect throughout his fight with cancer. From working several jobs to put himself through college in far-northern Wisconsin to turning a machinist job into a hydroelectricity expert path early in his career, my father had a positive attitude and went all-in on the road to giving himself and his family the best lives & experiences he could muster. We moved several times growing up, and he spent a lot of time in China and traveling. He and my mom brought us up in a complimentary partnership that seemed to suit both of their personalities. He believed in hard work, kindness, and ethics in everything he did.
Every morning, on my way out the door to school, he would say, “Be good to the people you meet”. His approach was not prescriptive – he didn’t trot out recommendations about what I should be when I grew up (other than a few sidelong comments about the relative worth of “basket-weaving” art classes). Be friendly, put in the effort – a simple, Swiss Army Knife life philosophy that I never fully appreciated until I learned more about how other people raise their kids.
My father loved to brag that he had only read a single book in the last thirty years. He badgered me until I too read Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists (Luigi Zingales and Raghuram Rajan). He believed systems that had effective rules, engaged members, and clear purposes could deliver extraordinary outcomes for the humans involved. When he found his way to IEEE after a multi-faceted career that included various levels of personal work satisfaction, it gave me something to believe in. To find work that benefits people, fully leverages one’s talents, and where your contribution is appreciated is a magical and often-frustrated career dream. “If you really want the job, write a hand-written note to the people who interviewed you” is another Pat Ryan nugget worth paying attention to that helped nudge him over the edge in getting the IEEE Executive Director role after a year of introspection and career-soul-searching. My dad found the job he would do until he died.
I have been trying to navigate the balance between being committed to & enjoying work, living a life, and showing up for the people close to me. My dad’s balance tilted far in the direction of work commitment, but that was his passion and his way of showing up for his family. I don’t intend to copy my dad’s life – we have different values – but I have learned so many things from him about the value of commitment and the importance of values clarity.