Dating an elusive man

"She is a tireless advocate in all these areas," son Rob says.)By announcing the Welsh-Ryan Arena project months before Collins led the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament, Northwestern had an easy time locking him in with an extension.

Northwestern’s football team undergoes a rigorous and raucous weight routine at the Nicolet Center on Thursday, July 20, 2017.

Pat Ryan has a laugh with Northwestern Vice President of Facilities John D'Angelo during a luncheon that preceded a football game against Nevada at Ryan Field on Sept. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune) Kickoff approached on a Saturday at Ryan Field. Time was precious, so a stairwell beckoned for an ascent to the press box. One of the things Shirley says attracted her to Pat more than 50 years ago was that he did not have a "big head." He still doesn't, despite becoming a giant in the insurance industry as Aon's founder, a minority owner (reportedly 20 percent) of the Bears, Chicago's point person for the 2016 Olympic bid, a wide-ranging philanthropist (Art Institute of Chicago, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Lyric Opera of Chicago) and the man chiefly responsible for the transformation of Northwestern athletics."The single most important reason that Northwestern football is where it is today is Pat Ryan," says Gary Barnett, who led the Purple to Pasadena in 1995. Alumni and faculty debated waving the white flag as the Wildcats won three of 66 games from 1976 to '81.

"He loves the exercise and is really proud that at 80 he can still climb to near the top of the stadium."Shirley laughs upon hearing that, offering a similar response to why they would walk: "Good cardio."It goes deeper, of course. His commitment to football has been astonishing."When Ryan joined Northwestern's board of trustees in 1978, NU football had dumpy facilities, underpaid coaches and a tolerance for losing.

A running back and linebacker, Ryan practiced with the 1955 Wildcats, who went 0-8-1 under Lou Saban.

Freshmen were ineligible to play, though Ryan says that wasn't the issue."I knew I was a hot recruit when (Saban) looked me in the eye and said: 'Jim, we really want you to come to Northwestern,'" he recalls.

I could make ,000 in a summer, and Northwestern was 0 a quarter."The son of a Ford dealer, Ryan also cut lawns and shoveled driveways as a kid, saying: "I always wanted to earn my way."He actually got his first-year tuition paid by Northwestern.

When a player breaks a personal record, he rings a bell in celebration.

(Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune) Northwestern’s football team undergoes a rigorous and raucous weight routine at the Nicolet Center on Thursday, July 20, 2017.

(Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)"You look like a front-runner if you do it after the season," Ryan says.

"Think of all the torture we would have gone through with people speculating, 'Chris is gonna go … For everything they've done for athletics, they've done more for academics."And they're not done.

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Those summer days in the sun contributed to his need for surgery to remove a mole, which left his nose bandaged in late August.

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