Terry Ryan, the author of the best-selling 2001 memoir “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less,” died of brain cancer Wednesday at her home in San Francisco, said Pat Holt, her partner of 24 years.
Ryan was 60 years old.
Born on July 14, 1946, Ryan was the sixth of Evelyn and Kelly Ryan’s 10 children. Growing up in Defiance, Ohio, in the 1950s, Ryan and her siblings never knew what might show up on their doorstep. It might be a new bicycle, or a freezer, TV, toaster, wristwatch, luggage or clothes.
Those were among the hundreds of prizes, including new cars, a trip to Europe and cash, won by their mother, Evelyn Ryan, over a 24-year period.
Married to an abusive alcoholic who spent much of his modest machine shop paycheck on whiskey and beer, Evelyn did the best thing she knew to help support her family: She entered thousands of promotional contests, tapping her wit and way with words to write prize-winning jingles and slogans for products such as Purina Dog Chow and Dial soap.
“There were always prizes coming through our front door,” Terry Ryan told the (Portland) Oregonian in 2001. “She had an incredible knack for winning things in the nick of time. One time she won enough money for us to keep from losing the house after my father took out a second mortgage without telling her.”
Ryan’s memoir was adapted for a 2005 movie of the same name, starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson as Evelyn and Kelly Ryan.