WASHINGTON — When Janna Little Ryan found out her husband, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, was going to be selected as the Republican vice presidential candidate, she made what her sister called a very smart decision: The family vacation would go on as planned.
So she and the couple's three children made a round of appearances with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney after the Aug. 11 announcement and then headed to a remote part of Colorado that has been a gathering place for her extended Oklahoma family.
“It was a place where there was no television, no telephones and limited cellphone coverage,” said Dana Little Jackson, Janna Little Ryan's younger sister, in a recent interview.
Janna and the children returned to Janesville, Wis., after the trip to find their home life would include Secret Service agents. The Ryans' eldest child, Liza, 10, started making cinnamon toast for them every morning, Jackson said.
To Jackson, the decision to go to Colorado was characteristic of Janna Little Ryan's grounded and family-first approach to life.
“That was such a great thing to do for the family … to get out of the media glare in that first week,'' Jackson said.
Janna's first task after a whirlwind month culminating in the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., was to get her kids settled in school in Wisconsin, Jackson said.
“She's an incredibly relaxed mom,” Jackson said. “I think that will help her in this adventure.”
“I have never seen her get flustered,” said former Oklahoma congressman Bill Brewster, who has known Janna Little Ryan since she was a child and hired her in the early 1990s as a legislative assistant in his Capitol Hill office.
Colin Chapman, who grew up with Janna in the Marshall County town of Madill and worked with her in Washington, agreed with Brewster and described his longtime friend as “calm, gracious and very unassuming in how she approaches life … She's always open to meeting people and talking to them.”
Chapman said he and Janna, now 43, participated in 4-H activities as kids. Janna showed sheep; he showed hogs and cattle.
“She did pretty good,” Chapman said. “I think she won a couple of trophies and plaques at the county show.”
Raised in a small town
That girl who, according to her sister, “lived in the barn,” went on to graduate from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the George Washington University law school in Washington. She was a tax attorney and lobbyist in Washington before she married Ryan and moved to Wisconsin.
That she could succeed at showing sheep in Oklahoma, at prestigious universities, in the competitive world of Washington lobbying and at raising a family in small-town Wisconsin is no surprise to the people who know her well.
Nor is it a surprise that she still loves going to Madill. Paul Ryan, an avid sportsman, also has expressed affection for the town and for Oklahoma.
“If you were raised in a small town and raised right, it's going to stick with you, and I think that certainly goes for Janna,'' Chapman said.
Jackson, who followed her sister to Washington and still lives here, says her sister is very much like their mother.
Their late mother, Prudence, went to Wellesley and graduated first in the 1968 University of Oklahoma law school class that included her husband, Dan, and now OU President David Boren. Boren married Dan Little's sister, Janna, now deceased, and their son, Dan, is now an Oklahoma congressman.