Jessica Ryan
Jessica Ryan

I'm about to say goodbye to one of the most influential nerds I've ever known. Last week, my great-grandmother Anne Ryan passed away. I only got to spend 23 out of almost 95 years with Nana, but for anyone who knew her, one day would be enough to change your life.

My Nana wasn't a nerd in the way we often think of them. I don't know if she'd ever seen "Star Trek," her knowledge of computers was limited, and she never sent a Tweet (though we did take a selfie together last summer.)

No, she wasn't a nerd as we've come to imagine them. But she had nerdiness, at its core, down to a T. My go-to definition for "nerd" is "someone who's extremely passionate about something and wants to share it with people." Nana always shared her passions with others, and it played a huge role in making me the nerd I am today.

In 1950, Nana came to the U.S. from Ireland with her husband, my grandfather and his brother. I don't know if you've ever met an Irish person, but we kind of never shut up about being Irish. It gets a little annoying coming from me, but in her brogue you could listen to it forever. She encouraged love and pride for our heritage, a value that led me to get Irish citizenship this year.

She was passionate about reading and writing and adamant about the importance of early literacy. As an infant and toddler, while my parents and grandparents worked, Nana would read to me every single day. I could read before I started preschool, and it became one of my favorite hobbies. For as long as she was able, she would write letters to friends and family around the world. While my compositions are less of an epistolic nature, she passed on a love of writing — and I store my stationery above my kitchen sink, just like her.


And she loved serving others. Whether it was volunteering at elementary schools helping children learn to read, sponsoring a girl in South America (and, of course, writing to her) or preparing lunches at Meals on Wheels, my Nana was passionate about doing what she could to make life better for other people. She made volunteering fun; I remember being confused when I found out "community service" was a form of punishment (it still confuses me today).

There is so much more to be said about my Nana and all the ways she shaped me than can fit in this column. But I hope, today, you'll be inspired to raise a glass in her honor and share your passions with someone else.

Jess Ryan is a community manager and CU grad. She writes about nerdy things once a week for the Colorado Daily. On Twitter: @JessicaLRyan.