Family member speaks out after military veteran reveals in obituary he is gay

Col. Edward Thomas Ryan was 85 when he died on June 1, according to his niece.

June 13, 2024, 4:26 PM

A military veteran who went on to serve as a firefighter and owned a local radio station revealed in his obituary that he was gay, a secret he said he held his entire life.

Col. Edward Thomas Ryan died at age 85 on June 1, the first day of Pride Month, his niece Linda Sargent told "Good Morning America."

After listing his career accolades and his survivors, Ryan's obituary, published June 8 in the Albany Times-Union, included a message that he wrote prior to his death.

"I must tell you one more thing. I was Gay all my life: thru grade school, thru High School, thru College, thru Life," the obituary reads. "I was in a loving and caring relationship with Paul Cavagnaro of North Greenbush. He was the love of my life. We had 25 great years together. Paul died in 1994 from a medical Procedure gone wrong. I'll be buried next to Paul."

Ryan's message continued, "I'm sorry for not having the courage to come out as Gay. I was afraid of being ostracized: by Family, Friends, and Co-Workers. Seeing how people like me were treated, I just could not do it. Now that my secret is known, I'll forever Rest in Peace."

Col. Edward Thomas Ryan served in the U.S. military, according to his obituary.
Courtesy Edward and Linda Sargent

Sargent said her uncle, whom she called Uncle Ed and whom she cared for in his final years, spoke with her about the message he wanted to share after his passing.

"I said, 'Uncle Ed, if that's what you want to tell the world, tell the world that you're gay. Don't be ashamed of it,'" Sargent recalled. "He was a great man, and I'm just so sorry that he had to hide who he was."

Ryan lived most of his life in upstate New York, including Albany, where he died, and Rensselaer, where he was raised.

He attended a local Catholic church and was the youngest of six siblings, all of whom are now deceased, according to Sargent.

Edward Ryan, who died at age 85 on June 1, 2024, is pictured as a child.
Courtesy Edward and Linda Sargent

Though Ryan was close with his family, Sargent said she does not remember him discussing his private life, including his sexual orientation.

"I think his siblings knew, but it was never spoken about," Sargent said.

Sargent said she never met the longtime partner, Cavagnaro, whom Ryan wrote about in his obituary. But she said she did hear her uncle talk in his final days about wanting to reunite with Cavagnaro after his death.

"He wanted to go home. He wanted to be with him, that I do know," Sargent said. "He never had another partner after that. He was the love of his life."

Sargent said she believes Ryan feared facing backlash if he publicly discussed his sexual orientation earlier in life, especially due to his military service.

Col. Edward Thomas Ryan served in the U.S. military, according to his obituary.
Courtesy Edward and Linda Sargent

As far back as World War II, the U.S. Department of Defense had a policy that "empowered the military to pursue -- or 'ask' -- service members suspected of engaging in homosexual acts," according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It was only in 2010 that the subsequent "don't ask, don't tell" law -- which banned LGBTQ service members from serving openly in the military -- was repealed.

Sargent said that because he was so private, Ryan declined to have military honors at his funeral and requested a very private farewell.

Edward Ryan is seen in a collage of photos from his life.
Courtesy Edward and Linda Sargent

In the days since his obituary was published, Ryan's story has gone viral, which Sargent said she sees as a final "salute" for her beloved uncle.

"I talk to him, like, 'Uncle Ed, you don't even know what's going on down here. You don't know what your obituary did to people around the world. People are sending messages from all over,'" Sargent said, adding, "In a way, he got his salute and got to open doors for other people."

She continued, "Hopefully he's at peace."

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