Thomas Ryan
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Obituary of Thomas Ryan

THOMAS PATRICK RYAN  10/13/1940 – 1/5/2018    Life Story

Tom was born in Waterbury, CT on October 13, 1940.  He was blind since birth.  Tom attended the School for the Blind in Hartford, CT, and graduated from Weaver High School, class of 1960.  In 1963 he was appointed to the Charter Revision Commission for the city of Waterbury. Tom was also President of the East End Community Club, a homeowners group that was 10,000 members strong. During this period, he was self-employed as a musician, playing piano or drums with groups around New England.  He also had a concession operation in Bradley’s Department store in Waterbury.

Tom moved to Florida in 1970 and was employed by the Social Security Administration [SSA] in March, 1971. He has been an advocate for the disabled since the day he started, and went to work even when others stayed home.  He was a Service Representative at SSA and dealt with clients in a courteous and professional manner, ensuring that his customers received the maximum entitlement that they were due. He provided sensitivity training for the entire office staff, using various materials such as video presentations, pamphlets and personal experience to educate the staff of the needs of the disabled. He received the Social Security Administration Commissioner’s Citation for Providing World-Class Service.  Even two of Tom’s guide dogs received recognition from Social Security for their Cheerful Personality, a heart full of love, reliability, loyalty, dedication and an eagerness to please.   Tom retired from SSA in November, 2013. He was appointed to serve on the Broward County Advisory Board and did so for approximately 8 years.

Tom received the Social Security Commissioner’s Citation in August of 1998, and received numerous awards over the years. He also appeared on many radio and television shows to explain the Social Security and Medicare programs to the public. He would then answer questions called in by listeners and viewers. In 1995 Tom worked to organize the Committee of Employees with Disabilities, South Florida Chapter and served as their President. He was also on the National Advisory Council of the Committee of Employees with Disabilities, and served as Treasurer.  In 2004, Tom received a Certificate of Appreciation for being a guest speaker at the Florida Division of Blind Services District 11  “Understanding the Job Placement Process Workshop”. In 2007 he received a letter from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson congratulating Tom in celebration of the National White Cane Safety Day which is held on October 15th.  In 2010 Tom received the Broward County “Advocate of the Year” award for exceptional commitment to our community in advocacy and support for individuals with disabilities.    

Tom was appointed President of the Greater Broward County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind [NFB] in 1993 by Wayne Davis because Ron Burns was moving away. Then Tom was elected to the position and served as President for over 23 years. He attended yearly seminars in Washington DC and met with Congressional representatives to alert Congress of the needs of the blind and how they could help the blind to achieve their full potential.  Locally he was instrumental in getting audible traffic signals installed at 24 major intersections in Broward County.  Tom and his guide dog were active in various public information seminars and Handicap Expos to educate the public on disability issues and to bring awareness of potential employment opportunities for the disabled. Tom organized the observance of the White Cane Safety Day in Broward County which has now spread throughout the state. Tom worked diligently to get the voting machines accessible to those with vision impairment and other disabilities.   

Tom was a member of several fraternal organizations, including being a lifetime member of the Moose organization. He was an active member of the local Transportation Disadvantage Committee which he was still serving when he passed.  He was also a member of the Broward County Advisory Board for the Disabled.  Tom was an accomplished musician and entertained at the SSA Diversity Conference in Miami, and at his local SSA office for special events. He was the organist for 11 years at Westside Christian Church.

Tom and Debbie, his wife of almost 24 years, live on Hiatus Road.  He always said “when you pass by, please wave and say Hi At Us”.  He really enjoyed drinking Duncan Donuts coffee and maybe having a donut.  He liked to walk to the Publix with his guide dog. His first was Charlie, then Micah, and then Gilbert.  He also played with Debbie’s guide dogs – the first was Brittani, then Springs and now Violet. Tom liked to Bar-B-Que with his electric grill on the porch, and enjoyed sitting on the swing holding hands with Debbie. They also liked to listen to descriptive video while eating popcorn. He was a baseball fan all his life and enjoyed listening to the games on the radio and TV, and going to the games. Go Marlins!

  Debbie says this about her life with Tom: “He will always be my sweetheart and I love him deeply. We met in the early 1990s on the paratransit.  He was very intelligent and thoughtful to me. Even when he was so ill he was concerned for me and my welfare.  He wanted to make sure I got something to eat and got rest.

Tom was a positive person, and believed in the NFB moto of “Live the Life You want.” His favorite Bible verse was Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Tom knew that God was his source.     

Tom is survived by his wife Deborah, his brother Jack and his baby sister Bonnie, nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews. He was loved by all his family and will be greatly missed. 


Arrangements by Joseph A. Scarano Pines Memorial Chapel, 9000 Pines Blvd, Pembroke Pines, Florida 33024 954-438-8222

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