Shirley and Corbett Ryan and Dr Joanne Smith talk to patients


Inspiration and Transformation

Posted By Meg Washburn


Make It Better


Need inspiration to lean in and embrace your faith, intellect, gifts and power to create impact? Please get to know Shirley Ryan. Other-centered, eloquent and determined, she is a social entrepreneur extraordinaire, whose strategic and values-driven work consistently creates opportunities that lift up others. Thanks to a record gift from Ryan and her husband Pat, Pathways — a leading nonprofit research and rehabilitation center forchildren struggling with developmental delays founded by the Ryans decades ago — will join best-in-class Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) research hospital, with the newinstitution renamed in her honor — “Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.”

Ryan resisted the renaming until she realized, “It’s important to use all of the strengths we have to inspire others too.  I’ve just always acted on the Lord working through our third son, Corbett,” she explains. Their youngest was born with physical challenges. As a result, and through prodigious efforts, Ryan sought, applied and developed the best possible care — first for him, then for all children through Pathways.

It’s important to use all of the strengths we have to inspire others too.  I’ve just always acted on the Lord working through our third son, Corbett.

Shirley Ryan


Ryan’s name has long been a great force for good. It opens powerful doors and reinforces best practices. A lifelong learner, Ryan studies issues deeply before settling on the most strategic course forward. When she acts, she creates opportunities for as many others as possible too. For these reasons, U.S. presidents from both parties have asked her to advise them. Also, she serves on the executive committee of the board of directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and on the board of directors of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Alain Locke Charter Academy and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She recently received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Notre Dame and was recently honored by the Chicago History Museum for distinction in civic leadership.

Ryan credits her husband of 50 years, Pat, who founded Aon, leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance, and human resources, as well as holding company Ryan Specialty Group (RSG), and who is probably Chicago’s most successful entrepreneur in recent history, with giving her strength to act too. “It’s easy when you have the giant power of this man behind you,” Ryan grins. But those who know the couple well understand that the success of each is a tribute to the other and evidence of the power of a loving union.

Download the complete Make it Better article here.  For Shirley Ryan AbilityLab media inquires, please contact Meg Washburn at

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