Regina "Jeanne" Ward Ryan, 77, of Narberth, a lawyer who was the first woman to graduate from Villanova University School of Law, died of complications from emphysema Monday, June 28, at Wayne Center, a nursing and rehabilitation facility.
Mrs. Ryan grew up in Merion. She graduated from Gwynedd Mercy Academy in three years and then earned a bachelor's degree from Rosemont College.
In September 1953, she began classes at the new Villanova University School of Law with two other women and 65 men, many of whom were returning Korean War veterans.
Mrs. Ryan was the only woman to return the second year. She was named to the school's law review and, along with 30 men, was a member of the first graduating class in 1956.
In 2003, she was an honored guest at the law school's 50th anniversary gala at the Kimmel Center.
A year later, Doris DelTosto Brogan, who is now acting dean at the law school, wrote about Mrs. Ryan's experience for Villanova Law Magazine.
"Jeanne Ryan studied, often by herself, with no networking groups, no support programs - just her tenacity and her desire to get an excellent education.
"This determined, chipper young woman, known for her keen brain, her fine study habits and her knee socks, paved the way for the almost 3,000 women Villanova Law School graduates," Brogan said.
After graduating from law school, Mrs. Ryan studied in Ireland on a Fulbright scholarship and earned a doctorate in constitutional law from the University of Dublin.
While in Ireland, she lived with Irish independence activist Sean MacBride and his family. At MacBride's request, Mrs. Ryan represented Irish prisoners incarcerated in English jails, said her son Don.
She maintained a longtime friendship with MacBride, who was a founder of Amnesty International and, in 1974, cowinner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Back in the United States, in the early 1960s Mrs. Ryan joined the law firm of Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young in Philadelphia and became the firm's first female partner. For many years, she was an attorney for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She retired in 1992.
Mrs. Ryan often returned to Ireland to visit, her son said, and loved Irish culture and literature.
She enjoyed playing word games, especially Scrabble, he said.
In addition to her son Don, Mrs. Ryan is survived by sons Desmond and Brendan; a daughter, Siobhan; a sister; a brother; and four grandchildren. Her former husband, Sean Ryan, preceded her in death.
Friends may call from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 1, at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday, July 2, at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church, 208 N. Narberth Ave., Narberth. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.