12-23-03 Former Ill. Gov. George Ryan arrives for his arraignment Tuesday with wife Lura Lynn Ryan at the Dirksen Federal Building. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
Updated: June 29, 2011 2:15AM
How poignant and sad it was that Lura Lynn Ryan, the wife of imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan, died on the same day a jury convicted another former governor, Rod Blagojevich, of federal crimes.
If Blagojevich needed any reminder Monday of the deep personal price he will pay for his crimes, separated from his wife and daughters for years to come, this surely was it.
That, we are told, is the toughest part of doing time: not being there for the ones you love.
For years, George Ryan’s friends in high places have worked to have him freed from prison early, often citing Lura Lynn’s poor health as a compelling humanitarian reason. And for years, we have opposed an early release for Ryan, seeing no reason he should be favored over the tens of thousands of other nonviolent offenders in federal prisons, most of whom also deeply miss their spouses or children or parents.
But it was never an easy position to take, never one that gave us pleasure, because we — like so many in the news business over the last several decades — had a fairly full appreciation of the “real” George Ryan. When he wasn’t ripping off the state, we knew, he was a pretty good egg, affable and quick with a joke. We especially admired his decision as governor to declare a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois.
More than that, we respected Lura Lynn Ryan, the great love of George’s life since they met as high school freshmen more than 60 years ago. We liked Lura Lynn’s down-to-earth ways. We admired her fierce loyalty. When her husband was on trial, we liked the way she sat in the front row in court almost every day.
Now Blagojevich finds himself in Ryan’s shoes, and we can’t even imagine how he and his wife, Patti, broke the news to their two daughters when they returned home on Monday: Daddy’s going away for a while.
Like Ryan, Blagojevich grossly betrayed the public trust. Like Ryan, he has earned his stay in a federal pen. And if, like Ryan, he aches to be with his family again, we hope he understands — again like Ryan — that he has only himself to blame.
The point of prison is to punish, and Blagojevich has punishment coming. The man did his best, if without success, to trade or sell whatever he controlled as governor — contracts, state funds, even a U.S. Senate seat — for personal gain.
But the point of prison also is to deter others from crime, and here especially is why we never went soft on Ryan and see no reason to go soft on Blagojevich. In a state with a sick tradition of unscrupulous elected officials, stiff prison sentences are essential in public corruption cases to scare straight other would-be crooked pols.
We are told that George Ryan, granted a leave from prison, was at Mrs. Ryan’s bedside on Monday when she died. We are glad for that.
And we will be happy for the Blagojevich family once Rod has gone to prison, served his time, and returned home.
If only it never had to be.