Louis Ryan: Getting Involved and Giving Back

Louis Ryan

First, Louis Ryan began giving through the church collection plate as a kid.

Then, as a Princeton University student, he pledged $20 a year to a school fundraising campaign.

As a young attorney at what is now Kaufman & Canoles, he traveled door to door to raise funds for the annual United Way campaign.

“That was my first involvement both as a donor and as a volunteer in any sort of meaningful way,” he said.

Now, at 75, Ryan is one of the region’s most engaged philanthropists, encouraging others to get involved, too.

“If you want to enrich your own life, getting involved in ways other than just money is critical,” Ryan said.

Pru and Louis Ryan
Pru and Louis Ryan

With his time, he has volunteered on boards for the Elizabeth River Project, ACCESS College Foundation, the Virginia Symphony, EVMS Foundation, Virginia Wesleyan University, and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. With his wallet, Ryan and his wife, Pru, have arranged a gift in their will to the community foundation to benefit several charitable causes.

“You live forever through your philanthropy,” he said.

For now, Ryan is mainly focused on educational and environmental causes.

“I was the first person in my family to ever go to college,” he said. “My father was an accountant, and he didn’t go to college for that. You just had to study for the exam. But education lifted him from humble beginnings. And education lifted me to an even better situation.”

Ryan, who grew up in Richmond, worked for a consulting firm after graduating from Princeton with a degree in engineering. He later earned a law degree at the University of Virginia but moved to Norfolk to be closer to local waterways because of his love of sailing.

After working in Norfolk for about four years at the law firm, Ryan served as an attorney for the former Landmark Communications under the leadership of the late Frank Batten, Sr., a longtime businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist.

“Everybody at Landmark followed the lead of Frank Batten and got involved. The people were committed beyond their immediate self-interests,” Ryan recalled. “It grew a little bit here and a little bit there.”

By the time Ryan retired from Landmark in 1999, he had a game plan: give back to the community as a volunteer.

Ryan said he’s learned about a breadth of community needs and ways to help through the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. He periodically reaches out to Leigh Davis, vice president for donor engagement, to learn about nonprofits addressing the region’s most pressing needs.

“I thought maybe there were some holes in my overall giving package. I thought I was a bit light on health and human services. So, I asked Leigh Davis to help me pick an organization focused on homelessness,” he said. “It’s one of those kinds of things that even though you might think as a person who’s engaged in the community that you know everything you need to know about giving, the community foundation can help you think that through if you decide to expand to some areas that have gone overlooked.”

Ryan said he likes how the community foundation can tailor its services to the donor’s needs.

“You’ve got some very smart people looking over the investment of the funds, so you know that your money is going to be handled properly,” he said.

He said that the community foundation’s role as a convener helps connect generous people to the causes they care about.

“Truth is, if you want to make a better world, you have to bring people together,” he said.

Hear from Louis Ryan about why he gives to help Hampton Roads.

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