Sheila was born in Oxnard, CA on March 1, 1945.
Her father, John Lawrence Ryan, was a civil engineer.
Her mother, Margaret Patricia Mullen, was a school teacher.
This is the earliest picture we have of her:
Sheila’s parents moved to Peterborough, New Hampshire when she was young, so that her father could work on the Edward MacDowell Dam, constructed in by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1948-1950.
This picture shows Sheila outside the Peterborough house:
The family then moved to Massachussetts. They lived in a house in Braintree, a suburb of Boston, and had a summer house in Gray Gables, near Buzzards Bay.
This photo shows a young Sheila standing in front of some type of tracked construction equipment, during a visit to one of her father’s engineering project sites:
She had three younger siblings: Margaret (“Marnie”), John (“Johnny”), and Kathleen (“Kathy”).
This photo shows the four of them standing by the Cape Cod Canal, near Gray Gables:
Sheila was a successful student at Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree.
In addition to her academic success, she was also a Massachusetts finalist in the Betty Crocker Homemakers contest.
In her senior year, the Boston Archdiocese awarded her a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., where she earned a degree in philosophy.
When Sheila first moved to New York in the summer of 1968, she shared an apartment with another young woman in the movement, but several months later she moved in with George.
George had been sharing an apartment at 200 Claremont with a few other Columbia students for several years, and then some LNS folks, but in the years that followed, the roommates left and the apartment was filled up with Sheila and George’s children instead.
During the 1970s, in response to the abusive behavior and neglect of the building by the landlord, Sheila worked to organize the tenants, and helped lead them to cooperate on rent strikes, to take legal action against the landlord, and eventually to take control of the building themselves when the landlord was forced to abandon it to City ownership.
Eventually the building at 200 Claremont completed the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board’s Tenant Interim Lease Program and became an HDFC cooperative, allowing the tenants to buy their apartments for a nominal sum.
When the kids were young, Sheila convinced George to go on a canoe camping trip. Although she had never been canoeing, she had read a few books and was confident they’d be able to figure it out. Sure enough, they did, and the entire family went camping and canoeing nearly every summer for the next four decades.
In the 1980s, Sheila learned that you could drive north into Canada to the end of the road — and then have your car winched onto a a freighter and carried further north along the St. Lawrence and Atlantic coast, to small coastal communities that were not otherwise connected to the outside world.
So of course, we went, with our big family van and all five children:
Joe put together this great video from a trip to the Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens in Quebec last February:
— “Dinner at Anciens Canadiens“, Posted on YouTube
As Caitlin tells the story:
When we rented a house in Italy near Sorento [in 2002], every time we went out to eat, they gave us each a shot of limoncello. One night none of us wanted our shots and I bet Sheila she couldn’t drink all six shots and make it through the windy drive back home without throwing up. She downed them all and didn’t bat an eye.
Since the mid-1990s, Sheila has led us on multiple summer trips to Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada.
We first rented a house in the Margaree valley in the 1990s, and then found our way to the Ross house, located on a bluff between Margaree Harbor and Whale Cove, looking out onto the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
We returned there for several years in a row, most recently in July and August of 2012.
Sheila was an accomplished cook, in any setting.
Even our picnics were extensively catered.
She had worked as a short-order cook in a roadside restaurant near the Bourne bridge as a summer job while she was a teenager, but most of her cooking skills seemed to be self-taught, through books and experimentation .
Caitlin spoke beautifully about her mother at the memorial service:
At Sheila’s memorial service, her brother-in-law Stuart Hanlon talked about Sheila as someone who led by example and taught valuable lessons to those around her:
Imoite Omulepu spoke about Sheila’s pivotal role in her extended social network of friends and family: