(nee Byrne) was born on May 19, 1929, in Janesville, WI and passed away in Brookfield, WI on February 2, 2020. She was preceded in death by her husband, partner, and love of her life, Robert Ryan, and their daughter, Jane Ryan. She had seven children, Jane, Bill (Clare), Molly (Matt Harris), Ellen (Hasnain Jetha), Sue (Jim Morris), Bob Jr., (Melva) and Michael (Julie). She was a fun and supportive grandmother to Bridget, Danny, Lizzie, Maggie, Ellie, Gibrael, Khalil, Sara, Ben, Elysa, Kaela, Maya, Gregory, and Sean. She was the sister of Sheila Cannon, the late Mike Byrne and the late Susan McBurney. Colleen’s extraordinary and compassionate caregivers–Ann, Sue, Mary Kate, and Carrie–were good friends to Colleen and like family to her kids.
Colleen graduated from St. Joseph Academy in Green Bay and graduated summa cum laude from UW-Madison with a double major in Math and English. The event that changed her life most at Madison was a blind date with Bob which led to their wedding in 1953. After graduation, Colleen taught high school Math and English before raising seven children and assisting Bob in his real estate and home building companies. She was both beautiful and brainy, though self- deprecating to a fault. In truth, there was not a subject she could not master.
Always curious about the world and open-minded, Colleen embraced all cultures with a desire to understand. She was never impressed by wealth, power, or status. She had a quick and sharp sense of humor and penned hundreds of hilarious 20+ stanza poems, often to song, for birthday parties, weddings and anniversaries. She hosted one crazy themed party after another. If Bob said, “How about hosting a surprise party for me in two weeks?” you could count on Colleen to send out an invite in iambic pentameter within days. When her kids moved away, studied or traveled overseas, she faithfully wrote amusing accounts about the home-front. A stickler for grammar up to the end, when told at a recent visit to the ER to “lay down”, she reminded the staff “it’s lie down.”
She was intuitively aware of the rhythm in music, poetry and quadratic equations. Though brilliant, she did not hold her kids to standards she set for herself, reminding them that there was much more to an education than grades. [Editor’s note: Thanks, mom.] Rarely, did she question her kids’ life decisions – not that she always agreed with their choices.
Throughout her life, Colleen belonged to numerous bridge and book clubs, played tennis and golf, sang in the Bel Canto Chorus and regularly enjoyed the Milwaukee Symphony, Milwaukee Repertory, and independent movies at the Downer and the Oriental Theaters. A daily dose of “All Things Considered” helped satiate her intellectual curiosity. The Oliver Wendell Holmes maxim best describes Colleen’s philosophy: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Through her sheer enthusiasm, she passed on her love of learning to her children.
Colleen and Bob treasured their time together. The kids, already in bed on a Saturday night, often heard the two arriving home from a party laughing and recounting the evening. Their love, respect, and affection for one another were inherited by their grateful children, who plan to continue Colleen and Bob’s lifelong conversation.
Her love for travel and learning continued late into her life. Although Colleen suffered the effects of dementia for the past several years until the very end she held an avid interest in everything from world affairs to the comings and goings of her grandchildren.
As she said recently, “It is all just wonderful, thank you.”
A Celebration of Colleen’s Life will be held on February 22, 2020, at Krause Funeral Home, 21600 West Capitol Drive, Brookfield, Wisconsin. Visitation at 9:30 AM – 11:45 AM, A Tribute to Colleen 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM, Lunch to follow.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Partners in Health or Habitat for Humanity — two organizations Colleen strongly supported.