Need inspiration to lean in and embrace your faith, intellect, gifts and power to create impact? Please get to know Shirley Ryan. Other-centered, eloquent and determined, she is a social entrepreneur extraordinaire, whose strategic and values-driven work to create opportunities that lift up others was honored at a ceremony celebrating the integration of two groundbreaking organizations. Thanks to a record gift from Ryan and her husband Pat Ryan, Pathways — a leading nonprofit research and rehabilitation center for children struggling with developmental delays founded by the Ryans decades ago — will join best-in-class Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s (RIC) state-of-the-art research hospital, AbilityLab, with the new institution renamed in Ryan’s honor — “Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.”
Ryan resisted the renaming until she realized, “It’s important to use all of the strengths we have to inspire others too.”
“I’ve just always acted on the Lord working through our third son, Corbett,” Ryan declared at the ceremony.
Ryan’s name has long been a great force for good. It opens powerful doors and reinforces best practices. A lifelong learner, Ryan studies issues deeply before settling on the most strategic course forward. When she acts she always creates opportunities for as many others as possible too. For these reasons, U.S. presidents from both parties have asked her to advise them. Shirley Ryan serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and on the Board of Directors of the , the Art Institute of Chicago, the Alain Locke Charter Academy, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She has also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Notre Dame and was just honored by the Chicago History Museum for distinction in civic leadership.
Ryan credits her husband of 50 years, Pat, who founded Aon, leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance, and human resources, as well as holding company Ryan Specialty Group (RSG), and who is probably Chicago’s most successful entrepreneur in recent history, with giving her strength to act too. “It’s easy when you have the giant power of this man behind you,” Ryan explains. But those who know the couple well understand that the success of each is a tribute to the other and evidence of the power of the loving union of these visionary entrepreneurs.
Pat proudly declares that “the transformational combination of Pathways and RIC will create a new research and treatment platform that will lift all ships.” Indeed, the concept at the core of the new hospital — putting all patients at the center of the closest possible collaboration between researchers and clinicians in a world-class, positive and empowering environment called an “AbilityLab” — was proven to be transformational in the pilot program. That first AbilityLab was so successful that an entire new hospital was designed around it.
“We are investing in science and technology more than any other place of our kind on the planet,” said RIC President and CEO Dr. Joanne Smith. “A new era in physical medicine and rehabilitation, perhaps a whole ‘new category’ in medicine, starts today.”
The power of faith pervaded the celebration too. Archbishop of Chicago Blase J. Cupich led the gathering in prayer. Ryan Opera Center rising star, Whitney Morrison, sang “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand.”
“We’re breaking down stereotypes,” Shirley Ryan says. “The hospital will be a miracle workshop — literally a miracle workshop. It is about building on our strengths, our abilities. Everyone has them. It is not about our limitations. It is about what I can do, and what you can do. About [Board Chair] Jude Reyes, Joanne Smith, the technologists, clinicians and researchers who will collaborate on the same floor too.”
With characteristic loving, faith-filled and community-building words, Ryan inspired all to lean in and do more — to believe and work towards better together.
Awards and Recognition:
Boards and Memberships:
- Pathways.org Board of Directors chair member
- Lyric Opera of Chicago, executive board member, vice president
- University of Notre Dame, trustee emeriti
- Art Institute, life trustee
- Chicago Council on Global Affairs, vice chairman
- Alain Locke Charter School, board member
- Appointed to National Council on Disability by two different presidents
- Chicago Community Trust
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