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OBITUARIES | Marilyn Ryan, 1932 - 2008

Assemblywoman, mayor, arts leader

June 27, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Marilyn Ryan, a founder and the first mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes who later became a Republican assemblywoman and then was appointed director of the California Arts Council, died Sunday. She was 75.

Ryan died of congestive heart failure at her home in Laguna Woods, her daughter Cynthia Brickner said.

Ryan became active in politics in her 30s when she joined the League of Women Voters and served as president of its Palos Verdes Peninsula chapter for two years.

She took a special interest in land-use issues and in the late 1960s grew increasingly concerned about what lay ahead for the unincorporated area of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

"Developers were planning to double the development, double the density along the coast," Ryan said in a 1983 interview with The Times. "There was no way we had a say in development, in the level of sheriff protection, fire protection. At some point an urban group needs local government to make those decisions for them."

She and colleagues decided to work toward incorporating the area as Rancho Palos Verdes. They formed a coalition and "we just went to war," Ryan said.

It took four years to reach their goal. Ryan was elected the first mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes in 1973 and served until 1976.

A Republican, she was elected to the Assembly in 1976 and served for six years.

Her biggest battles included efforts to prevent oil drilling off the California coast. She also was against Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that was passed to sharply limit increases in property taxes.

Asked why she pursued a career in politics, Ryan said in a 1979 interview with The Times, "You have to be optimistic about the process and believe in it, and I do."

Ryan was defeated in the 1982 primary and left the Assembly. The next year she was appointed director of the California Arts Council by then-Gov. George Deukmejian.

She caught flak over several issues, particularly the failure by the Arts Council to use $100,000 allocated by the state for a minority arts program.

She retired in 1985, citing health reasons. She had battled severe rheumatoid arthritis. "This was my own personal decision. I wouldn't resign under fire," she told The Times in 1985.

Ryan continued to work as a political consultant in California for some years.

Born Marilyn Grams on Dec. 10, 1932, in Milbank, S.D., she moved to Los Angeles with her parents as a teenager.

She graduated from Manual Arts High School and attended El Camino College and Cal State Dominguez Hills but did not graduate.

She married James Ryan, a teacher, in 1951. They settled in what became Rancho Palos Verdes, where he became principal of Miraleste High School.

The couple had two children before they divorced in 1981.

In addition to her daughter Cynthia Brickner, Ryan is survived by daughter Stephanie, two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

Funeral services are planned at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fairhaven Memorial Park, 1702 Fairhaven Ave., Santa Ana.


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