Peninsula News

Leo Ryan honored in San Mateo

Monday, November 17, 2008

A U.S. Post Office in San Mateo was re-named Monday in honor of late congressman Leo Ryan who was assassinated 30 years ago on November 18.

U.S. Representative Ryan was killed while investigating a controversial settlement called Jonestown in Guyana. His aide at the time, Jackie Speier, was shot five times and left for dead.

Speier was in San Mateo Monday at what is now the Leo J. Ryan Memorial Post Office. Monday was a day to remember all that Ryan was: A teacher, a politician, a member of the Navy, and a man who defended people who couldn't defend themselves, which is what he was doing on the day he died.

Monday's celebratory atmosphere was a far cry from the pain suffered 30-years ago when Congressman Leo Ryan was shot and killed in Guyana. It was November 18th, 1978, when Ryan and four others were killed at an airstrip by members of the People's Temple, on orders from leader Jim Jones.

More than 900 cult members died that day, almost all from drinking Flavor-Aid laced with cyanide.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who now holds his seat, was by Ryan's side with her own gunshot wounds, barely alive.

"As badly scarred as I am today, I can cover it up. And the truth is I got a second chance at life. And, most people don't," she said.

Speier was one of Ryan's staffers that was following up on concerns by some of his constituents that family members were being held against their will in Jonestown. On the same day that hundreds of people died there, Ryan was killed there on an airstrip while trying to help get defectors home.

"He was so much more than just the congressman that was killed in Jonestown, Guyana. You know, this was emblematic of a whole career, a lifetime of work," said his daughter Erin Ryan.

Today Erin is happy to see Speier represent Ryan's district. One of her first pieces of legislation was naming a San Mateo Post Office after Ryan, her mentor and friend.

"Leadership is not about kind of following the wind. Leadership is about stepping out and often times doing things that may be risky and may be dangerous but show true leadership," said Speier referring to Leo Ryan.

In addition to having a post office named after him Ryan is also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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