“That’s the kind of man Bob was”
When Robert Ryman’s friends learned he gave $1.2 million to support cancer care, they weren’t surprised at all.
“That’s the kind of man Bob was,” longtime friend Ross Tyser said.
Ryman passed away at his home on Lake Saranac, S.C. in January at age 73. But his memory will live on. In his will, he designated $1.2 million to support Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute. The Spartanburg Regional Foundation has placed the proceeds into the new Robert Ryman Fund. It will exist in perpetuity, with a restricted amount made available annually to benefit the cancer center.
“Mr. Ryman’s generous gift will address a wide range of needs – from support for cancer survivors, to technology enhancements, to educational programs,” said Foundation executive director Kristy Caradori. “This new fund will help ensure that our program can continue to meet the needs of our patients now and into the future.”
Ryman was a cancer survivor. According to his brother, Fred, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003.
“It was stage four, and they didn’t expect him to make it,” Fred said.
Fred lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He, Robert and their two brothers grew up in nearby Warsaw.
Robert served in the Army in Germany and came to Spartanburg to work in printing production for R.R. Donnelly. He was single and had no children. Fred helped care for him during his treatment.
“He went about his life as much as he could, but he would get down now and then,” Fred said. “It was not a good prognosis, but he persevered.”
Tyser worked second shift with Ryman at R.R. Donnelly, and he knew his friend was going through a difficult time.
“We didn’t really talk about his illness. He didn’t want to focus on the negative,” Tyser said.
Tyser and Fred Ryman shared that Robert was grateful for the care he received and was impressed by the Gibbs Cancer Center team. He became interested in cancer research and had a desire to help others facing a cancer battle.
Kept to himself
Ryman was a low-key person, those close to him said. He kept mostly to a small, tight-knit group of friends. He was known to be generous, and his acts of kindness and support were private and personal.
“If he knew a friend or family member who needed a little help, he would do it,” Fred said. “It made him feel good.”
Eric Mullins, who worked with Ryman on a number of home renovation projects, recalled that Ryman would run errands for an elderly neighbor and visit with her for lunch at least once a week.
Through the years, Ryman’s financial resources grew.
“He didn’t have a super big salary,” said Fred. “But he was pretty frugal and saved a lot of money.”
He had real estate and stock holdings – and, according to Tyser, possessed a knack for finding good investments.
“I remember back in the 1990s, he started with penny stocks,” Tyser said. “We laughed at him when he said he’d invested in bottled water. ‘Who’s going to buy water in a bottle?’ He obviously knew what he was doing.”
A sense of sadness
In retirement, Ryman immersed himself in home projects. He was particularly dedicated to his elaborate system of koi ponds. He had a main pond, a quarantine pond for newly purchased fish and a small pond for baby koi.
There is a sense of sadness and loss among those who were closest to him.
“Bob was a great guy, and it makes me sad that we didn’t get to finish everything – I know he would have really enjoyed it,” Mullins said.
Friends and family members have taken comfort in the legacy his gift will create – that this man who lived life on his own terms will, in death, be known for making an impact on the health of his community.
“Even though he wouldn’t have asked for it, we are grateful to have this fund named for him,” said Fred. “We’re proud of his contribution.”
Gibbs Cancer Center physician leader Jay Bearden, MD, commended Ryman and shared how meaningful it is when a patient gives back to the program.
“Patients are changed forever by their experiences at our cancer center,” Dr. Bearden said. “It is an honor that he chose to support us in his estate. What a wonderful legacy Mr. Ryman has left to our cancer program.”