Life Remembered: Judge Bryan a 'breath of fresh air'
CLINTON — Colleagues are mourning the death of a DeWitt County judge whose judicial career was brutally interrupted by cancer not long after it had begun.
Still, Garry Bryan, 60, of Clinton, is being remembered as a hard-working and kind-hearted man who carried on nobly while ill.
Judge Bryan died late Thursday night at an Evanston hospital, where he had spent a lot of time in the last three years being treated for pancreatic cancer and complications that came in the aftermath of surgery.
"I liked everything about him," said Clinton attorney Ray Moss, 82, a partner in the firm that Judge Bryan worked at for 20 years before being appointed to the bench six years ago.
His appointment as DeWitt County's resident circuit judge was announced in late August 2008, and he took the bench in October of that year. He ran unopposed for election in November 2010.
"He was a good, honest, intelligent, loyal friend and partner. He was a good judge," said Moss, who said he considered himself a father figure, mentor and co-worker to Judge Bryan. "He was just a very important part of our professional family and our personal family."
"I like to call him Judge Uncle Garry. He cared a lot about the people who came before him. He wasn't dismissive," said DeWitt County Public Defender Richard Goff, who has known Judge Bryan for about 25 years.
Because Judge Bryan handled mostly personal injury and worker's compensation cases as an attorney, he and Goff, the former DeWitt County state's attorney, didn't cross professional paths frequently. But they knew each other socially.
"Garry got to be judge here, and he was a real breath of fresh air for the county — very progressive in his attitudes. At the same time, he held to what was right. He wasn't one of those judges all over the place. He was pretty steady. I'll miss him," Goff said.
To avoid any conflict of interest, Judge Bryan was required by judicial ethics to recuse himself for three years from cases with attorneys who had referred clients to him or that involved clients of his former firm.
"We took the cautious route and decided he could not sit on those cases," said Sixth Circuit Chief Judge Dan Flannell, who was Judge Bryan's judicial mentor.
"The day he was diagnosed, he and his wife were returning from the doctor, and he called me on his cell, and they were crying. It was the very week that the three-year conflict expired. He was so excited to put all that behind him. It was just a rotten time," Flannell said.
"It's a huge loss. He was a good friend for me, just a great guy, witty, a hell of a fighter," Flannell said.
He and Judge Bryan shared a love of sports and sports cars. Moss said his friend also liked to fish.
Flannell said he talked frequently with Judge Bryan, including Thursday afternoon. He noted that Judge Bryan had beaten the cancer but suffered greatly from the effects of his surgery and the follow-up radiation.
"This is a guy who hasn't had solid food for two years. He was cancer-free to the very end," Flannell said.
"He beat the cancer but couldn't beat the treatment," added Ruth Lowers, administrative assistant to Judge Bryan.
"I've worked with a lot of people but he's the most kind and compassionate person I know," said Lowers, a 20-year DeWitt County employee. "He was very dedicated to his drug court program that he began in 2011. As late as this spring, he attended a drug court graduation that was conducted by another judge in his absence."
Flannell applauded his friend for being at the office "every chance he got" and working hard to finish up important cases so that other judges wouldn't have to step in midstream.
For the three years that Judge Bryan has been ill, judges from other counties in the 6th Circuit have gone to Clinton to cover for him.
"We were given the opportunity to help cover Clinton and every one of us understood the problem and did it willingly with prayers for his recovery," said Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis. "He was an incredibly nice man."
Through all Judge Bryan's absences, Flannell said he "had not a single phone call or indication of any inconvenience his absence may have created for the bar or litigants. That's a testament to him."
The Illinois Supreme Court will have to appoint someone to fill Judge Bryan's seat. His term will be up for election in November 2016.
Judge Bryan is survived by his wife Joyce and two adult sons.