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Lockerbie reporter Frank Ryan dies

2 August 2013

Frank Ryan, a journalist in the south-west of Scotland for more than 60 years who covered the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster, has died aged 82.

An NUJ life member, Frank was long established as the area's best-known newspaper reporter, but it was his coverage of the Lockerbie disaster that spread his reputation far beyond his patch, notably to the United States.

As a talented reporter on the Daily Record, he turned down several lucrative offers to become an executive in Glasgow in the paper's heyday in the 1960s. He also resisted pressure to move to Fleet Street where a glittering career was in prospect, preferring to remain in Dumfries and Galloway where he was to become a prominent figure, not just as a journalist, but also as a community activist and historian.

He explained that he had no difficulty in making the decision to remain at home because he simply loved the south-west of Scotland and wanted to spend his days where he would be happiest.

As "Ryan of the Record" he became one of the best known characters in Scottish journalism, a man of boundless enthusiasm for the job and with a reputation for encouraging younger colleagues. He worked for the Glasgow tabloid and for the Sunday Mail for 35 years as their staff reporter in Dumfries.

When he retired in 1988, having seen the future under Robert Maxwell who acquired the Record when he bought its sister paper, the Daily Mirror, he promptly set up his own news agency and spent the rest of his life freelancing. The Lockerbie disaster took place only weeks after he had left the Record and, for the rest of his life, he covered developments for news media around the world as the reverberations of the tragedy spread internationally.

He covered the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands and visited the Pan Am 103 families at their request in the US, where he described the Lockerbie area to them and explained the principles of the Scottish legal system. Many overseas newspapers and broadcasters sought his analysis of events. He made many long-lasting friendships among the American bereaved families.

When his death was announced, a bouquet arrived from the US for his widow, Avril, from the relatives of the Pan Am 103 victims, a gesture that acknowledged the respect they had for his coverage.

Frank Ryan was educated by the Marist Brothers at St Joseph's College, and graduated with honours in medieval history from Glasgow University. He was first drawn to journalism as a student, offering articles to local newspapers in Dumfries and to the Record.

Ignoring his tutor's advice to avoid newspapers because they were a "funny business", he considered teaching. But the Record offered him a staff job, which he accepted just as he was called up for national service in Korea. The paper held the job open for him for two years during which he served in the Royal Army Educational Corps. This included as spell editing a field newspaper for Commonwealth forces.

Over the decades, he became recognised as an expert in the history and life of the south-west of Scotland. For many in the media, at home and abroad, he was the first port of call for guidance.

He wrote a history of Dumfries and Galloway and supported local campaigns including the setting up of the Crichton Campus in Dumfries, where he became press officer, and the preservation of Scotland's oldest theatre, the Royal in Dumfries, where Robert Burns had been a visitor. He supported a campaign to preserve Moat Brae in Dumfries, where J M Barrie found his inspiration for Peter Pan.

In 1964, he married Avril Martin, who then also took up journalism, writing a television column for many years and contributing to a local paper in Dumfries. Frank Ryan spurned retirement and was the last man on earth to want a beach holiday, but adventure travel was one of his passions, always provided it involved history, museums and culture.

After reporting every event of significance in the south-west of Scotland for the second half of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century, Frank Ryan covered his last story on St Valentine's Day when he went to Gretna to report the day's weddings, as he had done for decades.

He is survived by Avril and their two children, Jamie and Kirsty, and two grandchildren.

Tags: , Frank Ryan, Lockerbie, Scotland, newspapers, freelance