What's New
Health & Fitness
Legal & Financial
Home & Garden
Arts & Leisure
Chat with Pat
Dear Webby
Forever Young
About Us
Search the Site

ShopIrish.com - One destination for Irish Gifts

Tim Ryan
Picture Perfect Man
who poured a Perfect Pitcher

One thing that distinguishes a person, that makes him stand apart from all the rest, is passion. A person with passion is never bored and never boring.

Tim Ryan is one such person. He was born October 22, 1943 and grew up in Willoughby. His father was a postmaster. He has two brothers, Terry and Tom and one sister, Ruth.

Young Tim Ryan

He attended Immaculate Conception Grade School in Willoughby as well as St. Joseph's in Collinwood. He graduated from St. Joe's High School in 1961.

Young Tim Ryan

Tim learned a lot from his father "He was a great man with a simple philosophy of life. It was all about caring about people and respecting people. My father always rooted for the underdog, wanted to give everyone an even break."

He gave Tim advice about dating. "Disappoint her" he told Tim. "Anybody can like you when you're being nice, disappoint her and see how she handles it."

Tim's father died in 1971 and left behind a family who loved him and a multitude of friends. His mother died in 1999 and losing her was devastating to Tim. "Both of my parents were very supportive, they were really good people."

Tim went onto night school at both Kent State and Cleveland State. He was also working at the time. He loved photography from "the day I was born. It's the only thing I know - I really love it."

"I was 10 years old and remember being at my friends house. His older brother was home from the seminary and taught me how to make contact prints in cereal bowls. It was the greatest thing I'd ever seen."

His mother told Tim that as a child he never, ever stopped talking about it. The following Christmas his Aunt Madelyn Witchner bought him his very first camera and his parents bought him a developing kit. "My Aunt Madelyn always supported me - she's wonderful!"

His mother suggested that he take pictures of people in their workplace "something that nobody was really doing". So he and Bobby Spohn went into downtown Willoughby and took pictures of dressmakers, counter clerks, people selling sodas - everything. Then they sold the pictures for 25 cents. "My mother gave up her fruit cellar so I could have a dark room - can you believe that?!"

He also remembers vividly going into the May Company and practically drooling over a new camera. His life changed forever that day. The salesman, a man he had never met asked him if he was interested in the camera. Tim replied that of course he was, it was a wonderful instrument, but he couldn't even think about affording it.

Tim Ryan and Keith Richards
Tim Ryan and Keith Richards

The man, Keith Richards, went into the case, took out the camera and handed it to Tim. All he asked is that he bring it back when he was done with it. Richards became Tim's mentor and had a tremendous impact on his future.

Tim moved to New York with his friend Paul Schwerko because "I met a New York photographer that said he's put me to work if I ever got to New York -and I believed him." When Tim got there the man was working out of his small apartment and barely had enough work to keep himself busy.

Tim met a wonderful man in New York who took him under his wing and showed him the ropes of being a photographer in New York.

Tim's father suffered a heart attack and Tim and his friend went home to see him. Once he was convinced his father was okay it was back to New York for him.

He and his friend got to the bus station early because they wanted a certain seat so they could see the sunrise in New York Harbor. They got in the seats and two women came on claiming the seats where theirs. They put up a fight until they realized the ladies had left their belongings in the upper compartment, so Tim and his friend moved. The bus took off.

Then, Tim's world was about to change again. The bus hit a parked truck - a glass truck. The destruction was terrible, people were hurt and bleeding. The two women in the seats Tim and his friend had fought for were pinned in their seats.

Tim was asked to go into the wreckage because he was so small and try to assess the situation and keep things calm until more help came. The one lady was already dead. The other lady was severed in half at the waist and begged Tim to shoot her.

Tim was eighteen years old and frightened to death. A doctor attempted to show Tim how to administer a shot of morphine, something he did not want to do and yet could not refuse. Finally a doctor showed up who was small enough to fit in the space and take over for Tim.

Only two people died in this tragic accident - the two women who sat in the seats Tim and his friend wanted so badly. Tim received a settlement from the bus company and marched right down to the business office at St. Joe's High School to take care of some unfinished business.

"It was seven years later, but I was there to pay my tuition and get my diploma. It was like they knew I was coming. They had it right there in the file by the desk and that was that. I remember graduation day and everybody asked to see my diploma. Mine was empty so I just laughed it off like they all looked the same. But I felt good about getting the real thing."

Tim Ryan

New York was hard and Tim was young and getting homesick and even though it broke his heart to leave the man who gave him so much and taught him so much, he went back home.

The first time Tim met his future wife, Gretta, he was in high school. He didn't date her than because she was too tall for him. Then, during Gretta's junior year in college mutual friends fixed them up.

Both had been told that the other was "dying to go out with them" and both cancelled other dates.

Tim and Gretta Ryan Wedding

Tim and Gretta Ryan Wedding

They dated for five years before, on August 8, 1970, they were married at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in South Euclid.

They brought their first daughter, Mary, home on their first wedding anniversary. Two years later along came Patrick and two years after that came Michael.

They also have two grandchildren. Mary and her husband Marty Walsh have sons Liam Timothy and Ryan Patrick.

Tim Ryan and sons

Hitting the links with sons and son-in-law

Patrick and his wife Carrie are expecting their first child in March and Michael, who lives in Columbus, is not married.

Tim Ryan, wife Gretta and family

Tim Ryan and family

Tim's very first commercial job was for none other than Browns' football legend Bob Gain. Tim's old boss was a man by the name of John Borza who was the first person to shoot game films for coaches, starting with Paul Brown when he coached at Massillon.

At the time, Tim was working for the Board of Education in the Bureau of Visual Education and would help Borza shoot the Browns on Sunday. Gain owned a company that sealed rubber gasket to metal and needed a commercial photographer. He knew Tim's work from the Browns and called on him.

Tim was only 21 years old in 1964 when the Browns won the championship and he was not only at the game, but he was on the field shooting it.

Ten years later he went to the Browns and photographed Forrest Gregg. The Browns had a huge panorama of the '64 championship game on the wall and Tim was able to find himself in the picture. He found out that there were only 3 in existence. The Browns had one, the photographer had one and a third unknown person had one. Tim tracked down the photographer and bought his copy for only $30.00!

Tim Ryan working

Tim Ryan on the job

Cirkut cameras (the ones that shoot panoramas) have always been one of Tim's passions. He went to the famed photographer Art Miller's sale of old equipment and in his basement, ready for the junk man was a tremendous collection of antique photo equipment and a circuit camera. Tim bought it all.

Collecting antique cameras was not popular at that time, something that has since changed. Most of the old Cleveland images were from that camera making it even more special to Cleveland history buff, Tim. He recently gave a talk at the Art Museum where he explained that just collecting antique cameras can be very boring. That is why he tries to find the history of the camera and why it was used for a certain shot and who took the picture.

Tim Ryan and camera

Tim Ryan and one of his collectible cameras

Tim saw an ad in a newspaper that read "Do you want to talk about cirkut cameras? Call…" So he called and was amazed to find out that there was going to be a gathering of over 100 people from all over the world to talk about one of Tim's favorite things. Of course he headed to the meeting and joined people from as far away as Australia and England and the International Panoramic Society was formed and Tim was on their very first Board.

Tim is somewhat of a "Forensic Photographer." He takes old photos and researches the photo, the people in the photo, the camera that was used and the circumstances of the photograph. He can take a very old photo of Cleveland and piece together where things where at the time of the photo and add in angles and mathematical equations and end up telling you exactly where the photographer was standing when he took the shot.

He has also re-created Cleveland photos, standing in the same spot, with the same angles and shown how the city has changed over the years. "I believe the camera and the photograph have a history and I become part of it."

He has a collection of panoramic photos numbering an astounding 110 and growing. He recognizes the humor of the photographer - in many of the photos a subject is in the picture twice. The subject would be on the end of a line and as the camera turned he would run around to the other end so that he was actually in the photo twice.

"Panoramic pictures make everyone look the same size because of the way they are taken. Actually if they were taken in a straight line they would decrease in size as the camera moved along. The camera is actually set up in the middle of a semi-circle. The result is a photograph that looks like a straight line, when in fact it is an arc."

Tim takes his photography very seriously on one hand and thoroughly enjoys it on the other. "I remember every picture I've ever taken and I've never thrown a negative out - ever!"

His collection is a very challenging one since there are so few cameras and photographs of the type he collects, but that's what makes it exciting for him. "What I'm trying to do now is intermix my collection with things I love and put them all together. I like to find cameras that are worn and frazzled rather than in pristine condition. They have a history. They tell a story. Part of what I like to do is figure out the story."

Tim also collects Ohio license plates and has almost a full set going back to 1908. He's missing 1909 and 1910. "Of course they didn't issue new plates in 1943 and 1952 because of WWII and Korea and now they issue stickers."

Also among his collections are Daguerreotypes, Tintypes and Ambrotype images as well as zeppelin and dirigible memorabilia. He collects historical Cleveland photographs and has about 139 different photographers' works from 1840 to 1910. It is the largest known collection of its type.

"Photographers used to be referred to as "Likeness Men". I would love to regress to that!"

Tim's life is not all about photography, however, and one would be very remiss to ignore the story of Tim Ryan's Pub. Tim had always been interested in having his own little 8 stool bar.

Day after day he drove past a spot in Cleveland Heights that once housed Mo and Juniors, and then Godfather I and II. The building was vacant and Tim looked it over each time he drove by. Eventually he asked a neighbor who was in real estate to take him in to see it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Feb. 5, 1979 Tim Ryan's dream of owning his own bar came true. But the part about 8 stools had grown quite a bit. On opening day there were 38 employees. The night before they were still painting chairs and putting in the oak floor. They had been given a variance for the sign they had by a judge who granted it only if they promised not to run out of beer.

Tim and Gretta at Tim Ryan's Pub

Tim and Gretta at Ryan's Pub

Gretta, who was working part time for the city of Cleveland Heights in Community Relations was an integral part of the Pub. She especially loved the Irish music. Bands like Rakish Paddy, The Irish Brigade, The Dooley Brothers, and many more played in Tim Ryan's.

People came in and became friends. His customers were one big loyal, lovable family and his Pub became almost a sanctuary. People from all walks of life called it home.

Tim and the Pub were featured on The Morning Exchange, PM Magazine and so many other shows. Live remotes on St. Patrick's Day was the norm and at the time, they were the only place in town where you could get Guinness on tap.

The served food that tasted like someone just made it in the kitchen, and that's basically what it was. Homemade food filled with taste, tradition and a large amount of love was on the menu.

Tim Ryan's Pub

"The Pub was only open for 6 years but it left it's mark on so many people that it seems like it must have been a lot more." It is not uncommon to hear people talking about Ryan's Pub yet today as if they were in there only yesterday. It's impact was that tremendous on so many people, including this writer.

There is still more to Tim Ryan than photography and the Pub. He is also the holder of "The Funniest Person in Communications" Award which he won from the CSCA (Cleveland Society of Communication Artists) and also at the Press Club Liar's Night.

The first time he competed he came in second to Linn Sheldon (Barnaby). Then he competed again, this time against Dan Coughlin, Denise Dufala, and others with lines like "We were so poor I was born at 16 so I could start working", Tim came in first two years in a row.

And he's an entrepreneur. He and Ed Fitzpatrick developed something called a "Blarney Stone", similar to a Pet Rock, but blessed with the Irish gift of magnetism and charm. They sold 12,000 of the stones to Abbey Press in a beautifully calligraphied box designed by designer and friend Russ Hirth and based on the Book of Kells.

Tim is in the St. Joe's Hall of Fame where he was introduced by John Sheridan.

Tim Ryan in St Joe's Hall of Fame program

Tim Ryan from St Joe's High School Hall of Fame program

He was named one of Cleveland Magazines Most Interesting People. He's received national awards for his magazine covers.

He's been on the parish council at St. Louis and serves as a Eucharistic minister there.

Tim Ryan and family
The Ryan's from St Louis Anniversary book

With Gretta's help he put together the St., Louis 50th Anniversary book and served on the St. Aloysius 100th Anniversary Committee.

Tim Ryan as cover model family

Tim Ryan - the magazine cover model

The award he is most proud of, however, was given to him by his grandson. "The very first gift my grandchild ever gave me is my "Grandpa Rock" and it is my most precious award."

Forty years ago when he was a senior at St. Joe's one of the brothers asked him to provide a famous photographer for career day. Now, all these years later, it is Tim they call for Career Day and he proudly goes.

He is also involved in Project Real where he works with high school seniors who are interested in his field. He had worked with students from Beaumont, St, Augustine and of course, St. Joe's.

Tim Ryan and sons photography

Tim Ryan and Sons

He is also very proud of a Marriage Encounter Group he and Gretta belong to. It began 25 years ago. Through the commitment of the people involved they have met every two weeks for twenty five years. "It started as a Marriage Encounter weekend through the parish and we just decided to keep going. These people have become an important part of my life."

This is the first year Tim has been open in the autumn on a Friday or Saturday night in forty years. That's how long he has been shooting football coverage for St. Joe's, St. Ignatius, Lake Catholic and at one time, Cathedral Latin. "In the beginning we had to wait for the film to be developed. At 2-3:00 in the morning I would drop the film off at the police station and the coaches would always be waiting to pick it up. I was there in every situation rain, snow, heat - whatever. And I was there for every championship.

Tim got a computer for his 60th birthday and is now getting ready to delve into the computer age of photography.

Tim Ryan is an eclectic person. He is passionate about things most of us don't even know about. He created a million memories for people through Tim Ryan's Pub and has preserved millions of memories through his photography.

You can't help but feel that Tim knows something that the majority of us don't know about being happy and fulfilling dreams. He has followed his passion to the dark room and the Pub. He has married the love of his life and adores his children and grandchildren.

Tim and Gretta Ryan and family

Tim Ryan is a successful man in every way that matters. He has the acclaim of his peers, the love of his family, friends who are proud to claim him, a strong belief in his God and laughter in his very soul.

If there's something missing in Tim Ryan's life, it is hard to imagine what it is. Maybe, just maybe, the best thing about Tim Ryan is his willingness to share everything and anything with whoever he meets and welcome them into his life.

Profiled by Debbie Hanson

Do you know somebody with an interesting story to tell?
E-Mail us at:

Top of Page

Back to Profiles of Cleveland Seniors

Back to the Irish in Cleveland

Tim Ryan

Copyright © 2004-2007 ClevelandSeniors.Com. All Rights Reserved.
Questions or Comments? E-Mail us at: