James J. Ryan Sr., a businessman who survived a torpedo attack on his ship during World War II and who served as acting mayor of Bellmawr in 1968, died of complications from a stroke Thursday, May 23, his 90th birthday, at home in Mount Laurel.
Mr. Ryan also lived in Cherry Hill and for many years had a second home in Sea Isle City.
Born in Philadelphia in 1923, he was an altar server at Most Precious Blood Parish in Philadelphia. He attended Roman Catholic High School and graduated from Temple University.
During World War II, Mr. Ryan served for three years in the Navy, including aboard the USS Houston, a light cruiser commissioned in 1943.
He was on the ship in the South Pacific in 1944 when it was torpedoed. Survivors wound up in the water for several hours before they were rescued. Mr. Ryan and those who were not wounded floated in life jackets or hung on to the life rafts where they had put the injured sailors.
But the crippled USS Houston did not sink. It was towed to a nearby port, and Mr. Ryan rejoined the ship a couple of weeks later, eventually helping to nurse it back through the Panama Canal and to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where it was repaired.
A successful businessman and entrepreneur, Mr. Ryan founded Red Lion Insulation in Barrington in 1963 and continued with the company until he was 87.
A former resident of Bellmawr, he was elected to the Borough Council in 1963 and reelected in 1966. He served as acting mayor in 1968.
He was active in the Rotary Club of Gloucester City and the Builders League of South Jersey. An avid sports fan, he was a longtime member of the Brewerytown-Fairmount Sports All-Timers Club. He had been a charter member since 1970 - and something of an institution, his family said - at Jim Corea's Gym, later known as Bobby Clarke's Gym, in Cherry Hill.
Outgoing and personable, Mr. Ryan loved being with people. "Whoever he was talking to at the moment was the most important person in the world to him," said a son, Daniel, of Marblehead, Mass.
"He had a wildly successful career in politics, business, and his personal life. But, by far, the most important thing to him was his wife, Gwendolyn, and his six children," said another son, Richard, of Cherry Hill.
He adored the Shore and traveled the world, his family said.
In addition to his wife of 60 years, Gwendolyn V. Egner Ryan, and his sons Daniel and Richard, Mr. Ryan is survived by daughters Kathleen Pacifico of Marlton and Jennifer Alleva of Southampton, N.J.; sons David of Blackwood and James Jr. of Houston; a brother; 17 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Viewings are scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at the Healey Funeral Home, 9 White Horse Pike, Haddon Heights, and 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, May 29, at St. Joachim Parish, Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 601 W. Browning Rd., Bellmawr. A Funeral Mass will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 29, at the church.
Entombment with Navy honors will follow in New St. Mary's Mausoleum in Bellmawr.
Donations may be made to Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, 5 Eves Dr., Suite 300, Marlton, N.J. 08053.