Metro Weekly

85-Year-Old Army Vet Comes Out as Gay in Obituary

Col. Edward Thomas Ryan, who spent his entire life in the closet, came out in a self-authored obituary as one of his final acts of courage.

Edward Thomas Ryan - Hans Funeral Home
Edward Thomas Ryan – Hans Funeral Home

Col. Edward Thomas Ryan died on June 1, the first day of Pride Month, at the age of 85 from complications related to intestinal cancer.

The decorated Army veteran’s obituary, which ran in the June 8 edition of the Albany Times-Union, included a message he wrote ahead of his death.

“I must tell you one more thing,” the message begins. “I was Gay all my life: thru grade school, thru High School, thru College, thru Life.”

The message then reveals Ryan “was in a loving and caring relationship with Paul Cavagnaro of North Greenbush. He was the love of my life. We had 25 great years together. Paul died in 1994 from a medical procedure gone wrong. I’ll be buried next to Paul.

“I’m sorry for not having the courage to come out as Gay,” the message continues. “I was afraid of being ostracized: by Family, Friends, and Co-Workers. Seeing how people like me were treated, I just could not do it.

“Now that my secret is known, I’ll forever Rest in Peace.”

Ryan, the youngest of six siblings, lived most of his life in upstate New York, including Albany and Rensselaer. He served in the Vietnam War and remained in the Army as the chef at East Greenbush American Legion Post #1231.

Ryan’s military service won him several honors, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Defense of Liberty Medal for “participation to the State following the attack on America, 11 September 2001,” reports The New York Post.

Ryan had reason to fear being outed as gay.

For much of his career, being caught engaging in same-sex activity or a same-sex relationship was grounds for dismissal. Even after retiring within the last decade, Ryan was terrified of being court-martialed for being openly gay, his nephew, Joseph Ryan, told The Post.

His nephew said that Ryan’s relationship with longtime partner Cavagnaro was not as much of a secret to people in his family. 

“They would go on vacation,” Joseph Ryan said. “Once he did retire, he would take a month off, and they would just put down where they wanted to go, any place in the world. So we kind of knew, but he wasn’t one that would come right out and say anything … Our family isn’t one that tries to say anything about people.”

The final message was viewed by the immediate family as long overdue.

“He was quiet, but he was bold. It’s been inside him all the time,” Joseph Ryan said, noting that the timing of his uncle’s coming out and the celebration of Pride Month is not lost on the family.

Edward Ryan’s niece, Linda Sargent, told ABC‘s Good Morning America that the viral nature of his obituary — which has been shared across the Internet — serves as a final “salute” to her uncle.

“I talk to him, like, ‘Uncle Ed, you don’t even know what’s going on down here. You don’t know what your obituary did to people around the world. People are sending messages from all over,'” she said. “In a way, he got his salute and got to open doors for other people.”

Ryan’s body will be donated to the Anatomical Gift Program at Albany Medical College, where students may be able to determine whether his proximity to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War may have contributed to his battle with intestinal cancer. Ryan’s body will be then cremated and buried alongside Cavagnaro.

Joseph Ryan says his uncle will be remembered for his kind and generous spirit.

“He was always cheerful,” Ryan said. “He always showed up at family events, and he always brought trays of food so everybody was fed well. He always sent his sisters and family flowers and stuff for birthdays, holidays. He never forgot anybody’s birthday.”

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