News Post

Phil Ryan '57

October 18th, 1939 - July 20th, 2018


On the morning of July 20th we lost a great warrior. Phil was a model. A rare mixture of genuine passion and solid, lawyerly, unflinching logic. From the early days of the Civil Rights Movement until his last breath, he invested his sharp mind and his extraordinary heart in the belief that justice mattered. That the struggle mattered. To know Phil was to admire the enormous strength of his convictions and to love him for them. Phil will be missed by many.

Donations in Phil's honor can be made to:

The American Civil Liberties Union


Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

We thank you in advance.

About Phil:

Phil Ryan is a native San Franciscan who became known to many for his extraordinary legal mind, his passionate commitment to justice and his brilliant writing. He grew up in his beloved city where he attended Saint Ignatius high school. After serving in the army, he entered into public service in 1962 as the youngest legislative aid in the California legislature, and worked as a civil rights organizer during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. It was his experience battling Jim Crow politics that he considers the seminal moment of his life.

Ryan attended Santa Clara University and graduated cum laude from Howard University Law School in 1969. That same year, he served as Project Director of the New Mobilization to End the Vietnam War, organizing a demonstration that attracted 250,000 people to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Crafting a high-profile, 37-year career as a trial lawyer, Ryan specialized in criminal defense and entertainment law. His celebrity clients included Academy Award winning movie stars, elected public officials, sitting judges, aothors and rock stars. As a final salvo, he defended his dear friend Earl Sanders, the then San Francisco Police Chief and in an unprecedented acquittal had the court declare him "factually innocent ".

Ryan retired from law to write novels, essays, news stories and poetry. Since 2002, he lived in San Francisco and Napa with his wife Dina Bitton. He fought cancer like a lion for more than a decade. Sadly he passed worrying about how dangerously his country was changing.