Journalist and former deputy editor of The Herald

Born: June 2, 1942;

Died: April 13, 2018

JOHN Ryan, who has died aged 75, was one of the finest newspapermen of his generation who was both inspired and sustained by his love of words.

His genius – and it was no less than that – was to design pages that reflected with flair and precision the events of the day. His passion, though, was to read, whether it was news schedules, features, poetry, non-fiction or novels.

In the midst of impassioned discussions on the precise merits of a breaking story, he could take a fellow reader aside and whisper: "Have you seen this?’’ A perfectly folded piece of paper would be produced from a back pocket with some line of Yeats, Dante or Shakespeare presented for mutual awe before he returned to the matter of producing stunning pages.

He was a precocious talent. He was deputy editor of the Scottish Daily Express at some absurd early age, certainly in his middle twenties. But he also had endurance. He worked as deputy editor of the Evening Times, the Sunday Standard and The Herald until retiring 40 years later.

His vision, judgment and supreme skills as a designer ensured he was held in the highest regard by such editors as Charlie Wilson and George McKechnie who entrusted Ryan with the organisation and display of major stories. They were sound if merciless judges of journalistic work but Ryan was never found wanting.

He could and should have been an editor but rejected attempts to recruit him in this role. He was happiest with a layout sheet, a pile of pictures and a wad of thumbed copy. From these mundane elements, he would produce dramatic but always stylish pages.

He could adopt a gruffness that was the staple of the late 20th century newspaperman but he could never quite pull it off. He had a seriousness about newspapers, how stories should be handled, how mistakes must not be made, but he was, in essence, a mischievous man. He had a well-developed sense of the absurd (he rejoiced in Flann O’Brien) and was always on the verge of breaking into the sort of wheezing, hissing laugh that recalled the age of the steam train.

Ryan was wickedly funny, often at his own expense. The tension and power plays of high-ranking journalism could be swiftly dissipated by one of his quips, normally made out of the side of his mouth.

He was immensely intelligent, though he spent much of his time shrugging this off, as if it was a malicious rumour that had to be scotched. This may have been because he felt disqualified by not continuing his formal education into a university, instead joining the Daily Express as a copy boy at 17. He was self-taught but found a willing and apt pupil.

His knowledge and appreciation of literature was of the highest order but he had the sort of mind that demanded information and retained even the most arcane details. A discussion on James Joyce over a pint of Guinness in the Monty, his gentleman’s club in East Kilbride, would be illuminated by Ryan mentioning the precise spot where the author of Ulysses first met WB Yeats and what conversation ensued. This would be followed by a self-deprecating remark as if he was embarrassed at what he had introduced into the craic.

Ryan was the most demanding and rewarding of bosses. He was also the most loyal, warm and supportive of friends. In the heat of the newsroom or in the trials of life, he would take a confused striver aside and offer not just words of encouragement but practical support. There are many old timers in Scottish journalism (and this scribbler is one) who owe their continued employment and subsequent careers to his gentle charity.

His gregarious nature was almost certainly a product of nurture. Born in 1942 to John Ryan and Kathleen McDowall, he was constantly immersed in an extended family. His father was away for months at a time during the Second World War and when he was home on leave the family frequently stayed with Kathleen’s mother, Alice O’Donnell, and her father, Bob McDowell, and Alice's mother “big granny” ( height 4ft 10ins ).

These adults were such good company that the young couple moved in permanently and John, sister Maggie and brother Robert were brought up in this household, surrounded by great storytelling, politics and fun.

John, who cycled from Mosspark to St Gerard’s school in Govan at the same time that Billy Connolly was a pupil, excelled at English and art but since his father insisted he studied science he took to dodging school and meeting up with friends, one of whom had an uncle working in the Scottish Daily Express.

A summer job as a copy boy in Albion Street prompted his enduring love affair with newspapers. He rose to be a sub-editor by the age of 19 and quick and constant promotion followed until he was deputy editor. The demise of the Express in Scotland and the closing of its Albion Street premises, later occupied by The Herald group, led Ryan to his senior posts at the Daily Record, Evening Times, Sunday Standard and The Herald.

A personality consumed by words, he had little time for sports or hobbies beyond walking, preferably with a dog, or spending time with his family whom he loved profoundly. His favourite spot was the library in his home in Grange, County Sligo. He first visited the area as a young man and was so enamoured by its beauty that he later bought a house and retired there. It was where he was laid to rest on Monday.

He is survived by his wife Shanna, sons Simon, Dominic and Paul, daughter Cara, and six grandchildren Jude, Finn, Paddy, Isla, Mia and Susannah.