ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y., Nov. 29, 2005 — St. Bonaventure University will honor 1952 alumnus Thomas Ryan with the Gaudete Medal on Dec. 16 in recognition of his outstanding work and service for more than 35 years, including serving as CIA station chief in Warsaw from 1980 to 1982 during the rise of Solidarity and the Lech Walesa years in Poland.
One of Ryan’s most notable accomplishments included protecting Col. Ryszard J. Kuklinski, a highly placed member of the Polish General Staff and a source from whom the CIA had been receiving uniquely valuable intelligence about the intentions and plans of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact for more than nine years. In November 1981, when Kuklinski was about to be exposed and arrested for being a spy, Ryan and his wife, at considerable personal risk, picked up Kuklinski, his wife, and two grown sons on a remote street corner and smuggled them into the U.S. Embassy, from which another station team carried them out of Poland the same night.
The Gaudete (gow-DAY-tay) Medal honors business and community leaders who exemplify the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi through their joy, hope, positive outlook on life, sincerely compassionate spirit and desire to serve humankind. Recipients of the Gaudete medal, such as Ryan, have inspired, encouraged and enlightened others through their personal and professional lives.
Ryan is featured in a new book, “A Secret Life,” written about the Cold War. Author Benjamin Weiser, a reporter for The New York Times, writes about the Cold War in a detailed biography of Kuklinski and his one-man war against the Soviet communists. Ryan and his wife play significant roles in the book’s later chapters of the book.
Both Tom Ryan and his wife of nearly 50 years, Lucille, were born and reared in the same neighborhood in the Bronx in New York City. They attended the same parish elementary school, graduating just one year apart. Afterward, each attended a Catholic high school, still in New York.
Tom moved on to attend St. Bonaventure University, while Lucille attended Hunter College in New York City. In 1952, he graduated from St. Bonaventure with a bachelor’s degree in English, magna cum laude, and was named a Distinguished Military Graduate of the ROTC program, receiving a Regular Army commission. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Infantry, in the U.S. Army.
He immediately entered active duty as an infantry officer for three years, which included more than two years in Japan and Okinawa during the Korean conflict. He returned to New York City in 1955, at which time he became reacquainted with Lucille. They were married in July 1956 at their parish church in the Bronx.
In the meantime, he applied for and received an appointment to the Central Intelligence Agency in 1956. The couple moved to the Washington, D.C., area, living in northern Virginia. He served in the CIA for 35 years, from January 1956 until his retirement in May 1991. Ryan served his entire career in the operational component, with two tours in Japan and tours in Thailand, Brazil and Australia in addition to his tour in Poland.
Since his retirement, Ryan has continued to work with the agency as a contractor. Over the years, the Ryans became parents of five children and now are also proud grandparents of five girls and three boys. The Ryans now live in Vienna, Va., with all of their children and grandchildren within easy reach.
Ryan will be honored and presented with the award at a dinner on campus Friday, Dec. 16, as well as honored at the University’s December Recognition Ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, in the University Chapel, located in Doyle Hall. For more information about attending the dinner, contact Patty Thibodeau at (716) 375-2334.
By Lucy Rushanova