Donald Ryan, the force behind CareCore National -- one of the county's largest private employers -- and a strong proponent of local economic development efforts, died Saturday, according to the Beaufort County Coroner's Office. He was 64.
The husband and father of two was taken by ambulance from his Hilton Head Island home to Hilton Head Hospital at about noon Saturday, Deputy Coroner David Ott said. Ryan died as hospital staff made preparations to fly him by helicopter to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston at about 5:45 p.m., Ott said.
The results of an autopsy performed at the Medical University are expected today, Ott said.
Ryan served as CEO of CareCore, which manages the cost, quality and safety of health insurance plans for companies such as Aetna Health. CareCore, which was founded in 1994 and moved its headquarters from Wappingers Falls, N.Y., to Bluffton in 2007, employs about 400 in the area and about 1,000 nationwide. The Bluffton headquarters houses a call center and executive and information technology offices.
After bringing the company to Bluffton, Ryan became involved in the efforts to recruit similar companies to the area.
Just days ago, he announced plans to donate office space at CareCore's Buckwalter Place headquarters to entrepreneurs specializing in new technology. The project, a partnership between Bluffton and Clemson University, aims to help start-up companies fine-tune their business plans and create new jobs.
Ryan also served on the board of the Lowcountry Economic Network, a recently dissolved public-private economic development partner.
In February, he was one of five local businessmen asked to join a task force to study job-creation efforts by Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton.
"Don was an exemplary community leader with great vision, and belief in the Lowcountry," Newton said.
The task force was expected to deliver its findings to the council Sept. 26, a presentation that will now likely be delayed, said David Tigges, task force member and chairman of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a tremendous loss to the county," said Tigges, who worked with Ryan to recruit businesses to the region through groups such as the Lowcountry Economic Alliance.
"He was very committed to having a vibrant county and really wanted to bring more groups like CareCore and more jobs to the county," Tigges said. "It's a shock. He was an intense personality and a little bit larger than life. When he was in a room, he was on-stage."
Michael Joslin, a CareCore spokesman, said the company plans to release a statement on CareCore and Ryan's death today. He said funeral arrangements were pending.
"All of us at CareCore -- our thoughts and prayers are with the Ryan family," he said.
Ryan received a master's degree in hospital administration from St. Louis University. He earned his undergraduate degree in political science with a minor in economics from Providence College.
Ryan and his wife, Helen, former principal of Hilton Head Island High School, were active in several local charitable organizations, including the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, said Gretchen Keefner, family friend and principal of Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts.
"They're involved in so many things and are extremely supportive of the community. And they were a great couple and each others' best friends," Keefner said. "I know he was in the top of his field and successful, but I know them as friends. We lost a good friend."
Follow staff writer Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LcBlotter.