Congressional Tributes to Leo Ryan

In the months and years following the assassination of Rep. Leo Ryan, Congress honored its fallen comrade with a number of tributes. Among them:

• On January 15, 1979, during the early days of the 96th Congress – the first sessions held after Ryan’s assassination – the House of Representatives passed, without debate or dissent, House Resolution 11, which states:

Resolved, That the House has heard with profound sorrow of the death of the Honorable Leo J. Ryan, a Representative from the State of California.

Resolved, That the Clerk communicate these resolutions to the Senate and transmit a copy thereof to the family of the deceased.

The Senate followed suit shortly thereafter. On January 18, the U.S. Senate accepted the House resolution, and California’s two Senators – Alan Cranston and S.I. Hayakawa –  introduced a resolution of their own. Like the House version, it was adopted without debate or dissent.

Resolved, That the Senate has heard with profound sorrow the announcement of the death of the Honorable Leo J. Ryan, late a Representative from the State of California.

Resolved, That the Secretary communicate these resolutions to the House of Representative and transmitted an enrolled copy thereof to the family of the deceased.

Resolved, That when the Senate recesses today, it recessed as a further mark of respect to the memory of the deceased Representative.

In addition, more than 100 of Ryan’s colleagues delivered tributes on the House floor during the first days of the congressional session. Congress also collected the addresses and published them in a volume later that year.

Leo J. Ryan, Late a Representative from California: Memorial Addresses Delivered in Congress (Note: This link will download the book to your desktop.)

This book is also available through Google Books.

• In June 1983, Rep. Tom Lantos, who succeeded Leo Ryan in Congress, offered a bill to honor Leo Ryan and to authorize the president to award a special congressional gold medal to his family. With 231 cosponsors, H.R. 3348 passed both houses by voice vote, and Ronald Reagan signed it into law on November 18, 1983, the fifth anniversary of Ryan’s death.

But support for the legislation was not unanimous. Earlier on November 18, 1983, then-associate White House Counsel John G. Roberts wrote a memo to his boss, Fred F. Fielding, expressing his belief that the honor might not be merited. John Roberts eventually became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

John G. Roberts memo to Fred F. Fielding, November 18, 1983, Ronald Reagan Library, Chron File (11/18/1983 – 11/27/1983)

• On November 17, 2003 – the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the deaths in Guyana – Rep. Tom Lantos (D-California) offered a tribute to the man whose seat he held for most of the intervening quarter century. The tribute highlights many of the actions in Mr. Ryan’s life, but focuses on his role in investigating Jonestown, an investigation which resulted in his death.

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Jonestown and the Death of Congressman Leo Ryan, Congressional Record, 2003, vol. 149, p. 11190-1

Mr. Lantos died in February 2008. The seat is now held by Rep. Jackie Speier, the aide to Mr. Ryan who herself was severely wounded at the Port Kaituma airstrip on November 18, 1978.