Obituary: Maggie Ryan, 2016 graduate, 22

Campus leader was committed to serve, 'good at life'

Maggie Ryan dancing
Ryan (second from left) dances with Children’s Miracle Network “miracle kid” Bryson at the Nov. 15, 2014, Dance Marathon in Tisch Commons. She  was a leader of both Dance Marathon and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Maggie Ryan, 22, died in a car accident May 22, 2016, in Wayne County, Ind., on her way home to Boston, just two days after earning degrees in anthropology and in women, gender and sexuality studies, both in Arts & Sciences, from Washington University in St. Louis.

Ryan was stopped in traffic on Interstate 70 when a tractor-trailer struck the rear of her car. Ryan’s passenger, Washington University alum Chryssi Yip, who attended the Commencement ceremony, sustained serious injuries in the accident. 

“This hurts, especially given the timing,” said Sean McWilliams, Ryan’s adviser and assistant dean in Arts & Sciences. “On Thursday, she crossed the stage in front of me at the Arts & Sciences recognition ceremony. She had this big smile and it was great to see her so confident and happy.”

McWilliams said Ryan found college hard when she first arrived, but that she emerged as a strong student and gifted leader.

“I remember thinking so vividly at the ceremony that this is the kind of transformation we always want to see,” McWilliams said. “Here is someone who is good at life.”

Ryan was deeply committed to the Washington University community, serving as a leader of both Dance Marathon and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. She also was a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority.

Maggie Ryan
Ryan graduated from Washington University May 20 with degrees in anthropology and in women, gender and sexuality studies.

“She understood that effective service is not just about putting in the hours, it’s about providing meaningful support and empowering communities to achieve the change,” said Timothy Dugan, coordinator of student engagement and service for the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. “It was exciting and inspiring to be around her.”

And fun, said Dance Marathon adviser La’Rez Wilson, manager of K-12 and youth initiatives at the Gephardt Institute. He helped Ryan stage the annual 12-hour dance party, which raises money for the member hospitals of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals of Greater St. Louis, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“She was the spirit of the event, from dressing up in her crazy cowgirl getup to dancing in a rainbow tutu,” Wilson said. “She could really captivate people.”

Recent graduate Jess Rosenberg, who served as Dance Marathon co-executive director, said Ryan wanted to improve health care for children and the world’s most vulnerable. Rosenberg said Ryan, who completed anthropology’s global health and environment track, was scheduled to move to Kenya this month to conduct public health research for Massachusetts General Hospital. Ultimately, she planned to attend medical school to earn a dual degree in medicine and public health.

“She was so caring, and that was reflected in everything she studied and everything she did on this campus,” said Rosenberg, who walked alongside Ryan at Commencement. “She taught a lot of us about helping others.”

A celebration of her life will take place in Boston at 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 7, at St. Cecilia Church, 18 Belvidere St. Her family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to Boston Children’s Hospital or Children’s Miracle Network of Greater St. Louis.

Lori White, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the Washington University community will gather in the fall to celebrate Ryan’s life. Details will follow.

Ryan is survived by her parents Ann and Anthony Ryan, and siblings Matthew, William and Thomas Ryan. 

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