Tuesday, April 7, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Elaine Ryan; To Her Life Was Just A Smorgasbord To Be Sampled

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Elaine Ryan, a microbiologist by training and an outdoorswoman by nature, was a work in progress.

Perennially curious, she explored comparative literature, religions, languages, horse breeding and mountaineering. She traveled to the former Soviet Union and, in her 40s, learned to fly.

She captivated loved ones with her ability to reinvent herself.

But in 1984 the Ms. Ryan everyone knew "disappeared" when she crashed her classic Citabria aircraft near Bremerton.

Therapy helped her regain mobility, but brain scarring sparked the epilepsy that wiped out her memory, necessitating her placement in a nursing-care center near her daughter's Corvallis, Ore., home.

Oddly, this was the only time in her adult life when Ms. Ryan seemed truly content, said her daughter.

"She's been disabled 14 years," said Katharine Jefferts Schori. "The last couple of years when she was (in Corvallis), once she got settled in, I think she was happier than she'd been since she was a child.

"She lived entirely in the present and was fascinated as each moment unfolded. She interacted with more people at the care facility than anyone else and was always genuinely interested in people."

Ms. Ryan, a Seattle resident much of her life, died Thursday (April 2) of what her daughter thinks was a heart attack. She was 65.

Born in Hartford, Conn., she moved to Edmonds with her mother and father, Cadillac dealer William Ryan. She graduated from

Seattle's Holy Names Academy and earned bachelor's degrees in comparative literature and microbiology from the University of Washington.

Active in the community, she typed books in Braille for Lighthouse for the Blind. She also organized a laboratory for a King County blood bank.

Living in New Jersey from 1963 to 1972, she earned a master's degree and Ph.D. in virology at Rutgers University, and did postdoctoral work with adenoviruses.

She returned to the Northwest in 1972 and lived on Shaw Island, San Juan County, where she raised Tennessee walking horses and learned to fly. She also climbed in the Cascade Mountains and continued her lifelong study of languages, including Russian.

She moved to Seattle in 1981 after divorcing Keith Jefferts.

"My mother had a strong understanding of the importance of community service through her life, and had a strong intellect," said her daughter.

"She also was a spiritual quester. She started life as a Roman Catholic, became Episcopalian, then converted to Russian Orthodoxy in the late 1970s.

"Elaine will be remembered . . . for her profoundly positive and hopeful approach to life."

Survivors include her other children Ingrid DeFranco and Steven Jefferts of Jamestown, Colo., and Erik Jefferts of Colorado Springs; her brother, William Ryan of Boston; and two grandchildren.

Services were held in Corvallis.

Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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