Stephen J. Ryan dies at 73; longtime dean of USC medical school

While USC conducted a nationwide search for a dean for its school of medicine, Dr. Stephen J. Ryan stepped in as interim dean in 1991, expecting to serve for six months. He held the job a record 13 years.

During his tenure as dean, it became known as the Keck School of Medicine of USC after the W.M. Keck Foundation donated $110 million to the institution, then the largest gift ever given to a medical school. Ryan was credited with raising the school's national profile, getting state-of-the-art facilities built, and expanding the level and quality of sponsored research.

When the ophthalmologist stepped down as dean in 2004, he remained president of the USC-affiliated Doheny Eye Institute, which he helped turn into a leading vision research and care program.

Ryan, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, died April 29 at his Pasadena home, the institute announced. He was 73.

Over three decades, Ryan had done more than anyone "to transform the Keck School of Medicine from a department of the county government, with only a loose affiliation with USC, into a nationally ranked research medical school that is an integral part" of the private university, Steven B. Sample, then president of USC, said in 2004.

A graduate of Johns Hopkins University's medical school, Ryan was recruited in 1974 by USC as the first full-time chair of the department of ophthalmology. He held the position until 1995.

Early on, he took steps to establish private practices for USC's full-time faculty, which helped the university recruit top academic surgeons. He initially saw patients in a colleague's Wilshire Boulevard office and then at what is now the Doheny Eye Institute, which moved next to the medical school in 1975.

Since 1987, Ryan had been president of the institute, building it into one of the top 10 eye programs in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings.

A retina specialist, Ryan conducted research that contributed to understanding how to manage patients with severe eye trauma and how to help those with macular degeneration, said Dr. Ronald E. Smith, chairman of the department of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine.

Stephen Joseph Ryan Jr. was born March 20, 1940, in Honolulu. He received his bachelor's degree from Rhode Island's Providence College in 1961 and his medical degree in 1965.

Before heading west, he completed his residency at Johns Hopkins' ophthalmological institute and held a fellowship at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.

After he published "Retina" in 1989, it was considered the definitive text in the field. Ryan held leadership positions at the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences and other organizations. He also had an active research lab at the Doheny institute.

"He was humble and gracious, the kind of guy who would lend a helping hand to anyone," said Smith, who went to medical school with him. "Steve taught us all the importance of training the leaders of the next generation, and I think he would be most proud of doing that."

Ryan is survived by Anne, his wife of 47 years; daughter Patricia; and brothers Richard, John and Robert.

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