Almost everyone in town knew by sight Richard Nelson Ryan Jr., who died at the age of 64 on Dec. 28 at his house in East Hampton Village. He was “such an ordinary kind of guy,” one acquaintance recalled. He was often seen down at Wiborg’s Beach in his red Jeep Wrangler, or stopping by Nichol’s restaurant to say hello to friends, or hanging out at the Wainscott Post Office. By all reports, he was anything but ostentatious.
So it came as a terrific shock when his sister, Hope Ryan Garrett, told Nancy Andrews, the president of the Ladies Village Improvement Society of East Hampton, that he had left the organization a posthumous gift of just over $1 million.
“Richard was dedicated to preserving the past with a united group of people who were committed to preserving the community,” Ms. Garrett said Tuesday from her brother’s house on David’s Lane, where he lived for more than two decades. “He loved this village, and he was a very traditional guy.”
When Ms. Garrett walked up the stairs at the L.V.I.S. headquarters (the Gardiner Brown house on Main Street) on March 24 and requested a meeting with Ms. Andrews, “I didn’t know what to think,” Ms. Andrews admitted. “I had no idea at all.”
When Ms. Garrett handed Ms. Andrews the letter, outlining Mr. Ryan’s donation, “I was just shocked,” said Ms. Andrews. “And incredibly grateful.”
Mr. Ryan’s bequest is the largest the L.V.I.S. has ever received from one person.
According to those who knew him, Mr. Ryan had always been generous, making anonymous donations and supporting friends who needed a financial boost. He had also always shown a particular affinity for the society, sometimes dropping off Christmas checks for $20,000.
“Christmas always came a little early,” said Mary Anna Jun-Morris, the general manager of the L.V.I.S., recalling his holiday visits.
“He was a silent wonder,” marveled his sister. “No one really knew who he was.”
As children, Richard and Hope were brought to the Mulford Farm for the L.V.I.S. summer fairs, and Ms. Garrett remembers her brother loving the well-preserved architecture and landscaping of East Hampton Village.
“You would never think he would do something like this,” Ms. Jun-Morris said. “He didn’t want any accolades or fanfare. He liked to go out to the East Hampton Airport and watch the airplanes come in.”
Now Ms. Andrews and the board of the L.V.I.S. are faced with the not-unpleasant task of deciding on how best to use Mr. Ryan’s bequest.
“My hope,” said Ms. Garrett, “is that they perpetuate that my brother did this, and that others carry on the tradition.”
Ms. Andrews told The Star that a scholarship has already been established in Mr. Ryan’s name.
“The money will be used in accordance with our mission statement,” she said. “Richard had a passion for the magnificent trees and beauty of East Hampton. He demonstrated a deep desire to assist L.V.I.S. to carry out our mission and accomplish our goals. We will always be grateful for those years of support, and he has given us a gift that will help us to continue our work and ensure our future.”