Former Observer publisher Mike Ryan passes

Sep 8, 2022

Mike Ryan

Like most people aged 30 and older, I’ll never forget where I was on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.It was going to be a typical day, although there’s really no such thing as typical for a journalist.

I was at work in the office when Observer publisher Mike Ryan called my attention to a small TV screen in the back room of our digs on Sara Road, telling me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

And although I initially dismissed it as pilot error, that dismissal became absolute horror as a second plane hit the other tower, and the nation was in turmoil.
That’s the kind of publisher Ryan was — keeping his thumb on the pulse, not only of the City of Vision, but the nation itself. Often, he would come to work talking about what he’d heard while on a treadmill at Defined Fitness, after chatting with the city’s movers and shakers of the early 21st century.

Ryan, who had been in declining health, passed away July 10, one day after his 81st birthday. Services were at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, followed by a reception at the family home.

Genie Blair Ryan, his wife of 38 years, said her husband had been the director of advertising for Tucson newspapers, “and when he went to work for Wick, they appointed him the publisher in Rio Rancho, and we moved here in January 1988.” Genie worked at the newspaper as a reporter.

The Ryans and Rio Rancho were like another married couple.

“I think Mike was very passionate about the community and it became kind-of our whole family’s life. We were very involved in this community,” Genie said. “I think there were 28,000 when we moved here, so we were here for a lot of the growth — and he loved it.

“He lived in Rio Rancho and the Observer. It was all about what a community newspaper should be — a part of the community,” she said. “And we got very involved in the creation of the school district, and it became a whole community thing. We were kind of all in this together.”

“Mike and Genie, to me, will always be the Observer,” former Rio Rancho police officer Steve Shaw said.

That seems to be the general sentiment.

Tom Swisstack remembered meeting during his first term as the city’s mayor.

“My first experience with the Observer was during campaigning. Mike Ryan and the staff were always objective and looked at the issues as they related to Rio Rancho and its growth and the surrounding communities,” he said. “When you have a local paper, you always wonder if it’s good to be slanted one way or another.

“My heart always knew that he was being objective in reporting, not editorializing. He was a very personable person,” Swisstack added. “Many times, it’d be at his and Genie’s house for a social function, or (I’d) bump into them (at a restaurant) and we would still have dialogue, about politics or the growth to the city.”

Former JCPenney call center manager Terry Hibler said after he moved to Rio Rancho, his children and the Ryans’ son, Christopher, became friends.

“Mike and I quickly became friends. I got to know him pretty good, with my role at the chamber,” Hibler said. “Mike and I talked about everything from family to politics to religion to whatever. What I respect about Mike is (that) what you see is what you get: a man of integrity who listens well and is intelligent.

“It tore my heart out to get the news,” said Hibler, a resident of McKinney, Texas. “We went through in April and sat down with (him) and Genie. I talked to him on the phone probably monthly. He was one of my two or three best friends when I lived there, 22 or 23 years.”

Susan Saunier, an Observer advertising representative, said she was fortunate to work 10 years for Ryan, “a true newspaper man.

“He was so much a part of Rio Rancho that people often assumed he and Genie owned the newspaper,” she said. “He had an open-door policy and would welcome all who wanted to come in for a chat or a complaint.

“The office was a lively, inviting and busy place to work because he set the tone of community interaction with its newspaper. I can picture him with his camera around his neck, going out to take a picture or shoveling snow in his suit,” Saunier said. “Each Christmas, he made sure the newspaper carriers had a party because, he said, ‘We can all do our jobs, but without the carriers, the papers don’t reach our readers. Mike truly did have ‘ink in his veins,’ a phrase he taught me about all of us who work in print. He was a passionate man who loved his family, his faith, his community and the Observer.”

Sometimes, being the publisher of a newspaper could be bittersweet, but that didn’t matter to Ryan, ultimately forced out of his position by Wick Communications in July 2002 and replaced two months later by Shane Maddox.

“He wasn’t afraid to take a stance, so we dealt a lot with people being upset with us,” Genie said. “He was involved in all sorts of organizations, but we also had a whole lot of fun. He fought for the things he cared about.”

The top three things he cherished, she said, were “faith, family and community.”

Mike Ryan also was the instigator of the annual painting of a huge green shamrock in the early hours of every March 17 at Sara Road and Southern Road, “and he was very proud of it,” Genie said.

In addition to Genie and Christopher, he is also survived by son, Tim, and daughter, Kellie Price, his children from a previous marriage, and a large extended family.