Dr. James H. Ryan, 85

Oct. 9, 1930 - Dec. 28, 2015
Dr. James H. Ryan,  Oct. 9, 1930 - Dec. 28, 2015

Dr. James H. Ryan, a pioneer in the field of psychiatry who helped to introduce the use of film and video technique in teaching the science, died on Dec. 28 at home in East Hampton. He was 85 and had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer last spring.

Dr. Ryan had summered here since the mid-1960s.

“A familiar figure around East Hampton, often in tattered sweatshirts and pants,” he “loved long days of tennis and yard work, followed by animated dinner party conversations featuring sufficient quantities of white wine,” his family wrote. “He rarely shrank from a D.I.Y. home improvement project. When his century-old, eight-bedroom ‘cottage’ on Dunemere Lane began to list perilously toward the ocean, he simply jacked it up with car jacks, adding a few more each year.”

A longtime professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Ryan became the founding director of the department of educational research at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in 1963, establishing one of the first hospital-based film and video studios in the nation.

“It was a major innovation, and Jim created the atmosphere that motivated everyone to participate,” Dr. Robert Michaels, a colleague and former chairman of the Weill Cornell department of psychiatry, said recently about the introduction of video. “Now everyone has cameras on their computers. . . . Then, nobody did.”

Dr. Ryan was chairman of the postgraduate education department for the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where he helped develop curriculum for medical residents across the state and also established a remote video teaching system. He retired in 2004. 

He “brought a maverick humor to the intellectual field of psychoanalysis, reaching beyond the hospital wards to draw a range of colorful characters to his lab for filming, including actors, professional athletes, media personalities, and once even a visiting Soviet general,” his family wrote.

He was born in Albion, N.Y., on Oct. 9, 1930, to James Ryan and the former Gertrude Geary. Dr. Ryan’s family moved to Rochester when he was 6 years old after the death of his mother, and he was enrolled in a Catholic boarding school beginning in second grade.

He attended high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Rochester, where he starred on the football team. Upon graduation, he accepted a football scholarship from Boston College, but, always a good student, he yearned for the challenge of the Ivy League, and was courted as a potential transfer by both Harvard and Yale. The Bulldogs beat out their archrivals, after it was pointed out to the future doctor that Harvard still played the single-wing style of offensive football, where the quarterback passes infrequently.

He became the starting quarterback, punter, and kickoff receiver for Yale’s team. For 30 years he held the record for the longest kickoff return in school history.

Upon graduation, he turned down the possibility of playing professionally for the legendary Paul Brown in Cleveland. Instead, he turned his focus to medicine, choosing Harvard Medical School as his path to life beyond football.

He went on to do his residency at the Langley-Porter Clinic in San Francisco, where he met the former Mary Bayes. The two moved to New York, and were married. They had two children, both of whom survive: Maxwell and Oliver Ryan, both still splitting their time between New York and East Hampton. The couple eventually divorced. She lives in Springs. In 1981, Dr. Ryan married the former Lisa Eyer, who survives. They had one child, Justine Ryan, who also splits her time now between East Hampton and New York.

He also leaves a granddaughter and a brother, Maury Ryan of Providence, R.I.

Dr. Ryan “always said East Hampton had the greatest beaches in the world. He loved the ocean and the community,” Oliver Ryan said yesterday.

He enjoyed painting, frequently displaying his work in the annual Guild Hall Artist Members show, and was also an investor, sometime collector, and had taken up woodworking in recent years.

He loved tennis, and was a member of the Maidstone Club.

The family will hold a private service.