In Memoriam: Gordon Ryan

We note with sadness the passing of Gordon Ryan, a beloved LDS author. He was 69. Three months ago he was  diagnosed as suffering from a blood disease called Cardiac Amyloidosis. In a recent blog post he discussed his diagnosis, and said it was caused by exposure to Agent Orange during his time serving in the United States Air Force in Bangkok during the Vietnam War.

I have pieced together a biography based on various author bios available on the internet. I encourage all who knew him to write their tributes in the comments section, and add any corrections or details to his biography.

Gordan Ryan was born October 5, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of Thomas Ryan and Eleanor Hansen. He was the second generation of Irish and Norwegian grandparents. He spent his early years in Staten Island, New York; his middle childhood years in Tampa, Florida; and his teenage junior high and high school years in San Antonio, Texas. He held a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in Political Science and completed graduate work in Public Administration. As a young man of nineteen, Gordon served with the 1st Recon Battalion, United States Marine Corps in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Several years later, he served with the United States Air Force during the Vietnam conflict where he was assigned to a medical facility in Bangkok. He also served as a member of the American Embassy staff in Dublin, Ireland, during the violent seventies. He served as Chief Executive Officer or City Manager in multiple American and international communities. Besides the locations listed above, he has lived in England, Thailand, and Taiwan, as well as a half dozen states on both the east and west coasts of America, including the far reaches of Alaska. In recent years he and his wife, Colleen, have split their time between the northwestern United States and Christchurch, New Zealand, where Colleen is from. The Christchurch earthquake of 2011 resulted in the government condemning the land upon which their house was built, and required the family to build a new house. Ryan is survived by his wife of almost 25 years, Colleen Sterling,  his daughter Kate Armitage, and his sons Gordon Michael Ryan and Daniel Howard Ryan. He also had an infant son, Thomas Ryan, who proceeded him in death.

Ryan’s bibliography is a bit difficult to follow, as he has rewritten and self-published most of his earlier novels. His first published novel, Dangerous Legacy, is a military thriller released by Deseret Book in 1994, when Ryan was in his early 50s. Ryan recently rewrote and republished it as Triple Diamond. Next came the Spirit of Union trilogy: Destiny, Conflict, and Heritage, published by Deseret Book from 1996 to 1999. It is a LDS historical fiction series, starting with a young Irish Catholic man and a Norwegian Mormon woman who meet on a ship bound for the United States in 1895. The series follows the adventures of the pair and their families all over the world, going up to 1940. In recent years Ryan rewrote and republished the series, renaming it The Callahans and expanding it to five volumes. He appears to have included new material to the new first three volumes, pushing the end of the third volume, renamed Reunion, forward to the 1920s. The two new volumes, Prelude and Reprisal, continue the story to the years after World War II.

In 1996 Deseret Book published Threads of Honor, based on a true story of a Boy Scout troop who donated an American flag which flew on the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle. Mapletree republished the book in 2003. Ryan’s next novel was A Question of Consequence, published by Mapletree in 2003. It is the story of a contemporary young Assistant City Manager of a Utah town who discovers and is inspired by a diary of a revolutionary war ancestor, is engulfed in a political scandal, and finds romance. Booklist said it was “outstanding in its genre”, and said it was “deeply felt, unpredictable, and smart about municipal politics.”  Ryan republished it as Love, Honor, & Consequence.

After having bad experiences with two small Mormon publishers, in 2009 Ryan decided to self-publish his new books, as well as republish his older books. Among the new books were the Pug Conner series of political thrillers, starting with State of Rebellion, published in 2010. It tells the story of a secessionist movement in California. Conner, a US Marine officer from the first book, continues as the main character in the sequels, Uncivil Liberties and To Faithfully Execute. A scheduled fourth novel in the series, Blood & Treasure, has not yet been released. Another recent book by Ryan is The Leashes of Dogwood Hollow, a satire about corruption in local government.

Ryan has also written novels with his daughter, Kate Armitage. The first was Upon the Isles of the Sea, a 1998 Book of Mormon novel about two Lamanite stripling warriors who meet up with Hagoth and sail to Polynesia.  The father and daughter used the pen name “Kate Gordon” when publishing Ninth Crossing: Discovery, in April 2012. It is a time-travel fantasy romance about a female secret service agent who is kidnapped by elves and taken to 1630 Ireland. “Humor and light-hearted romance, yes, but a serious story about corruption, power, deception and the length to which men – and women – will go to achieve their ends.” The second volume, Conspiracy, was published in September.

Biographical posts can be found here, here, and here.

We here at the Association for Mormon Letters wish to express our deepest regret to the Ryan family, and pray for their comfort.

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18 Responses to In Memoriam: Gordon Ryan

  1. Gordon was the first to welcome me into the Mapletree Publishing arena, shooting me an email with, “Now we’re in the same stable!” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant at the time, but have since seen it as an expression authors use when they have the same publisher. Mapletree was not a good experience for either one of us, however, and we both moved on to other fields. When I first had the good fortune to meet Gordon, it was at a Storymaker dinner where he was generous enough to pass out complimentary copies of his book. I was delighted. I’ve read a couple of his books, and appreciated his writing skill. When I found out at the end of October that he was sick, I sent him an email. He emailed me right back, saying that he wasn’t sad and that he’d had a good life. Even though his message brought me comfort, I wept when I heard of his passing. Although he lived on the other side of the world, I could always email him and he would answer. The best thing about Gordon is that I knew he accepted me, bunny slippers and all.

  2. Braden says:

    I knew Gordon only through the email lists of LDStorymakers. He was quick to welcome me as a new member and always generous with advice and encouragement. I loved Gordon’s tireless advocacy for the causes and ideas about which he felt passionate. I’m sending my prayers to his family and hope they can find peace.

  3. Yesterday I found out that esteemed friend, mentor, historical novelist and political thriller writer, Gordon Ryan, passed away. Our friendship began through the LDS Storymakers list, and we quickly discovered we had our love for history in common. We read each others books and swapped manuscripts from time to time. In 2007, I put a call out to Gordon, desperate for his advice. I was at odds with an editor over my historical novel, Land of Inheritance (Out of Jerusalem series). He answered the plea and read the manuscript in a single weekend, then gave me his advice: “Stick to your guns.” I did. That book went on to win the Whitney Award for Best Historical. I’m forever grateful for Gordon’s friendship, encouragement, and kind mentoring. His wife Colleen used to come along to the Storymakers conferences and volunteer her time to help run pitch sessions or other things. I remember he told me that he’d watched the entire 5 hour BBC version of Pride & Prejudice with his wife and daughters just because he enjoyed being with them and wanted to be involved in their interests. He was a true gentleman–a rare find these days. RIP, my friend. Here’s my blog post about that particular event:

  4. Janet Jensen says:

    Excellent article. I knew Gordon through LDStorymakers. He was passionate about his writing, and I think, especially when he was able to update and republish some of his older works, proud of the body of work he had created. It is a legacy that he left to all of us.

    On a personal note, when Gordon and Colleen moved to Australia, I adopted their beloved Robbie, a cavalier spaniel who did not know he was a dog; he had always been treated like an only child. It was obvious they had lavished so much love on Robbie, and that he returned it joyfully. I wish I’d sent Gordon an update on Robbie, and I kept thinking about composing one. In recent days a nagging little voice has reminded me to email Gordon and now it is too late. Those little voices speak to us for a reason, and I regret not acknowledging this one.

    In Gordon and Colleen’s beautiful Utah home, the location of a Storymakers party, my eye was caught by a photograph on the wall. In the picture Gordon is shaking hands with President Gordon B. Hinckley. Both men are beaming. What a wonderful moment in time caught by a camera. I will always think of that photo when I think of Gordon. My deepest sympathies to Colleen and the family, of which Gordon was openly and unabashedly proud.

  5. I met Gordon through LDStorymakers as well, and found him to be passionate, mentoring, and a man of very high standards, both morally and within the craft of writing. I read his entire Spirit of the Union series in about two weeks, completely captivated by the story he told which also taught me about a period of the church we often don’t see–early 1900′s. His writing was meticulous, and his work was a priority for him. The few times I met him in person, he was energetic and helpful and ultimately very kind and good-hearted.

    He and I also crossed swords from time to time, and a few years ago found ourselves on opposite sides of an issue that created a breach in our friendship as neither of us were happy with how the other handled the situation. When I learned he was ill I began pondering on how to make things right . . . I never got the answer to that and with his passing–much sooner than expected–I am saddened to have missed my opportunity to thank him for the good he brought into my life and the example of patriotism and mentoring he set for so many people. I am glad to know that he’s in a place now where he can know my heart, even though I did not get the chance to express those feelings.

    Colleen was a fabulous partner for him and I so admired the sacrifices they both made to make a good life for themselves. When I met her in person she had a necklace on that I couldn’t define–it was a rectangle with horizontal lines that segmented it and a diamond in the space between the top line and the outline of the pendant. I asked her about it and she proudly told me that Gordon had made it for her to represent a cupboard with shelves to show that she was ‘top shelf,’ an Irish saying that meant she was a suitor’s best girl. I imagined him designing that for her and it struck such a tender cord. He had a poet’s heart, a soldier’s fortitude, and believer’s faith. I am glad to have known him and wish him and his family my condolences.

    Thank you for this tribute, Andrew. You are a great supporter of this community.

  6. Laurie Lewis says:

    I only knew Gordon via our joint Storymakers’ connection, but I remember sending him a “Steamboat Willy” ecard for his birthday over which we shared a good laugh. He was immensely generous, offering wisdom from his vast experience in the industry and life. Our literary themes were similar, and I had great respect for his service to our country, and his ability to inform, educate, and entertain. His wit and kindness will be greatly missed. I wish the very best for his family as they face life without his daily light.

  7. Julie Wright says:

    I met Gordon through LDSstorymakers as well. We were among the first writers to join that group. He was a big part of its growth, always jumping on board when the rest of us had some new idea for something we could do to change the LDS market for the better. He really wanted the market to do better. He knew that LDS authors could be so much more than we were allowing ourselves to be, and he worked hard to take us higher and push us farther.
    He was the guy who taught me to spell the word separate by telling me to put a rat in the middle of it. It’s strange that just two weeks ago, I passed this nugget of wisdom to one of my kids who was as challenged as I used to be in spelling that word. I had a rough year and a half in my writing career where everything went south. Gordon constantly cheered me, and then when the time was over and things were good again, he loved to tease me about my lamentings on how it would never get better. He was the tigger to my eeyore.
    So glad to have known him, to have had his friendship.
    He will be missed.

  8. Richard Peterson says:

    I had the privilege of serving as Gordon’s editor during the time he was just beginning his writing career. He was so enthusiastic and passionate about his characters and his stories that it was a pleasure to work with him. In fact his depictions of Tom and Katrina and their family in his Spirit of Union trilogy were so lovingly and completely drawn that for me the Callahans have always felt like my own relatives. Gordon’s passion for his writing is illustrated by an experience we shared during the time he was writing the World War I episodes in Spirit of Union. Gordon called me about 10:00 in the evening and asked if he could come to my home to share something he had discovered. When he arrived, we sat in his car in my driveway and listened to part of a CD featuring an Irish musical group. One of the songs described how when young men enlist for military service, they depart to the accompaniment of bands, flags, and cheers. But when they return wounded and disfigured there is no parallel welcoming celebration–the dock where the ship lands is empty and pain is the soldier’s only companion. As we listened to the song, Gordon teared up. He said he had personally witnessed just such a circumstance and that he hoped he could capture the poignancy in a scene in the volume he was then writing about the Callahans and their involvment in World War I. I loved Gordon and will miss him. All the best to you, Colleen. I know Gordon had you in mind when we wrote those glowing descriptions of Katrina Callahan. What a great loss.

  9. I remember meeting Gordon at an AML annual meeting when he was still unpublished He told me about his book, and I wished him well with it. It was nice to see that he was able to have it published and that it was followed by others as time passed. I’m so glad he was able to fulfill his dream of having his work published and I am sorry I didn’t have any other opportunities to get to know him. My condolences to those who did know him well.

  10. Jeff Savage says:

    I’ve known Gordon as a writer, a friend, and a co-worker. I first met Gordon as an author. We spent lots of time, both on-line and off, discussing writing, trends in publishing, and the difficulties of writing for a national audience as an LDS author. Later those discussions turned to family, church, and eventually work.

    When the opportunity arose to hire Gordon for the home health and hospice agency where I was working at the time, I did so with no hesitation. I knew Gordon as a man of great integrity who always said what he believed and who was loyal to his family and friends.

    Those attributes made him a great manager at our Las Vegas location. As soon as he arrived there, people recognized him for the kind of person he was. Later, one of the employees and her husband were baptized as a direct result of her acquaintance with Gordon.

    I never had a conversation with Gordon where I didn’t learn something or gain a new insight. He was a caring husband and father, a devoted author, a good friend, and a man of great personal integrity. He was always willing to listen to what you had to say and he always said what he felt, without pulling any punches. I will miss our friendship and conversations.

  11. Tracy Johansen says:

    I first met Bro. Ryan thru his daughter Kate whom my family got to meet while our families were stationed in Giebelstadt Germany with the Army. I then later was able to meet him in St. George Utah at a book signing. As the time passed, Bro. Ryan’s love to his family, commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and his literature and stories that he has left for his children and grandchildren was and is unwavering and it will go on forever as well as the rest of the world.

  12. William Austin Tolbert says:

    I have been a friend of Gordon’s since he and I served in the military 40 years ago. Gordon’s funeral service in New Zealand will occur this Tuesday at 2:30pm Mountain Time (10:30am NZ time). It will be held in a Stake Center there.

    I was asked by his family to present his Eulogy via a video from the States. I have produced it and those interested in this tribute to a great man can access the Eulogy video at:

    The Eulogy shares some of the “threads” from the fabric of his life, and the echo’s he has left in many of our hearts. We needed more good men like Gordon, not less…

    William Austin Tolbert, USAF Ret.

  13. I was terribly saddened to hear this news. As a fellow storymaker, I enjoyed getting to know Gordan. I still remember that day several years ago now, when we met at that restaurant in Draper, and I gave Gordan and his wife a little bottle of kiwi jam I had made. He got the joke, and chuckled. He was a wonderful person, and I will miss him.

  14. I am shocked and saddened at the loss of this kindly and upbeat man. I had no idea he was ill. I met him in 1994 at LDS Booksellers. We had both just published our first books for DB and got together over lunch with Colleen to swap idea for publicizing our books. What a long time ago that was! We have kept in touch through Storymakers and David’s blog, The Passive Voice, to which he was a frequent contributor.

    My condolences to his dear wife, Colleen, and his family. He will be greatly missed.

  15. I knew Gordon through LDStorymakers’ list. He helped me so much when I was venturing into untested waters. Thank you, Gordon. I’m sure you’re giving people on the other side courage to move forward already.

  16. Colleen Ryan says:

    Thanks you all so much for all the kind comments about Gordon. He was quite a presence and the house is oh so quiet this week as visitors and family have all gone back to their lives and it is just Mollie (our dog) and me. Surreal. Preparing to travel a different road at this time and a little overwhelmed by his sudden passing even though he had the diagnosis three months ago and we knew it was terminal. We just thought he had a year or so. Not to be and very grateful he does not have to go through any more of that terrible treatment they dole out (chemo) Gordon hated it. He only had three weeks treatment but was scheduled for 8 months of it so good he does not have to submit to it. Regards to all, Colleen

  17. Irwin Weiner says:

    I too was shocked to learn of Gordon’s passage. I truly enjoyed reading his novels and hope he rests in peace. I was wondering if his unfinished novel of Blood and Treasure will be completed by another author?

  18. Daniel Ryan says:

    I just discovered this thread today. It really touched my heart to read all of the stories and loving comments from my Dad’s friends. Thank you all so much, I really appreciate this. I’m thankful for the person that my Dad was, and loved him a lot. He is missed.

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