Fast Facts on George Ryan – KESQ

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look into the life of George Ryan, the former governor of Illinois who served time in prison after being convicted of racketeering, conspiracy and fraud.


Date of Birth: February 24, 1934

Place of birth: Maquoketa, Iowa

Birth name: Georges Homer Ryan

Dad: Thomas Ryan, pharmacist

Mother: jeanette ryan

Marriage: Lura Lynn Lowe (1956 – June 27, 2011, her death)

Children: Nancy; Lynda; triplets Julie, Joanne, Jeanette; and George Jr.

Education: Ferris State College, B.S., 1961

Military service: Army, 1954-1956

Religion: Methodist

Other facts

Worked as a pharmacist in the family business.

“Our capital punishment system is haunted by the demon of error – error in determining guilt, error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die,” Ryan said in a 2003 speech announcing blanket commutations.

The 163 men and four women whose sentences were commuted by Ryan were convicted of murdering more than 250 people.


1968 – He is chairman of the county council of Kankakee, Illinois.

1972 – Was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives.

1981-1983 – Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

1983-1991 – Lieutenant Governor of Illinois.

1990 – Becomes Secretary of State under Governor Jim Edgar.

November 3, 1998 – Is elected Governor of Illinois.

January 11, 1999 – Takes office as governor.

October 1999 – Meets Cuban President Fidel Castro during a humanitarian mission. This is the first visit to Cuba by a serving US governor since Castro came to power in 1959.

January 31, 2000 – Call for a moratorium on executions, “until I am sure that all death row inmates in Illinois are truly guilty”.

August 8, 2001 – Banned from running for office due to corruption scandal.

October 2002 – Orders the Illinois Prisoners Review Board to hold two weeks of clemency hearings for nearly all death row inmates. He does not attend hearings.

January 11, 2003 – In one of his last acts as governor of Illinois, Ryan commuted the sentences of Illinois’ 167 death row inmates.

December 17, 2003 – Is indicted on federal charges of taking payments, gifts and vacations in exchange for government contracts and leases while he was secretary of state.

April 2006 – Convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, and other offenses for receiving payments from political insiders in exchange for state business while serving as Secretary of State and Governor of Illinois.

September 6, 2006 – Is sentenced to 6 and a half years in prison for racketeering, conspiracy and fraud for having collected bribes during his mandate.

November 7, 2007 – Ryan reports to Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin to begin serving a 6 1/2 year prison sentence.

February 28, 2008 – Is transferred to Terra Haute FCI in Indiana. New rules prohibit the Oxford facility from housing inmates over the age of 70.

November 25, 2008 – Ryan appeals for clemency in a letter to President George W. Bush. He is supported in his appeal for clemency by Senator Dick Durbin and Governor Rod Blagojevich. Bush leaves office on January 20 without granting clemency to Ryan.

December 12, 2008 – Ryan apologizes for the crimes he committed in power as part of his clemency petition. He says, “I want to make things right in my heart with God, with my family and with those I have hurt…As a former public servant, husband, father and grandfather, I apologize.

February 7, 2009 – An Illinois appeals court rules that Ryan is entitled to a portion of his state pension, estimated at $65,000 a year. The pension will cover the years he served in the state legislature and as a lieutenant governor. The Illinois attorney general plans to appeal.

February 19, 2010 – The Illinois Supreme Court overturns the appeals court’s decision, ruling that Ryan is not entitled to any of his state pensions.

June 27, 2011 – Ryan’s wife, Lura, dies after suffering from terminal lung cancer. Ryan is temporarily released from prison so he can be with her during her final hours.

January 30, 2013 – Returned to house arrest to complete the remainder of his sentence.

July 3, 2013 – Is released from home confinement.

September 10-September 13, 2018 – At the invitation of the Cuban government, revisits the country with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, and others.

December 13, 2018 – The Woman’s Club of Kankakee, Illinois honors three former city governors, including Ryan, with its “Three Governors Wall.” Ryan attends the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

September 18, 2020 – His book, co-authored with Maurice Possley, titled “Until I Can Be Sure: How I Stopped the Death Penalty in Illinois,” is published.

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