Meet Janna Ryan: The smart, down-to-earth wife of Paul Ryan

Liz Goodwin
The Ticket

At her husband's side this weekend, Janna Ryan was a beaming blond presence, helping the Wisconsin congressman introduce himself to the country as a down-home, budget-slashing vice presidential candidate. Ryan waved at supporters and gamely posed for photo after photo with her husband and the Romney family.

But, so far, the 43-year-old mother of three hasn't seemed as enthusiastic about speaking to the public.

On Sunday, during an event in Mooresville, N.C., Janna Ryan joined her husband along with Mitt and Ann Romney onstage—as each of them, one after the other, delivered rousing stump speeches.

Ann Romney marveled at the huge crowds that had turned out for the event. "We're going to take the White House back," she told the fired-up audience.

When his wife concluded, Mitt Romney tried to pass the mic to Ryan's wife, but she shook her head and waved it away, not quite ready to take the spotlight.

[Slideshow: Meet Janna Ryan]

That shyness may not last long. Friends remember Janna Ryan as an outgoing presence at college, and Ryan herself is no stranger to politics—she worked as a legislative aide and lobbyist; her cousin, uncle and grandfather all made their names in Oklahoma politics.

The daughter of two lawyers, Ryan grew up in Madill, Okla., in a family steeped in politics. Her uncle is a former governor of Oklahoma, and her first cousin, Dan Boren, is a retiring Democratic congressman from the same state. In 1987, Ryan left small-town Oklahoma for Wellesley, a selective women's college located outside of Boston, where her mother also went. Ryan majored in Spanish.

"I can't imagine there would be a single person at Wellesley who had [a] bad interaction with her," Pia Thompson, president of the class of 1991, told Yahoo News. "She was honestly the nicest person there. I don't know if it was her Oklahoman sensibility ... she was an absolute sweetheart, always with a smile, always with a hello to anybody." Like most Wellesley girls, Ryan seemed diligent and passionate about her schoolwork, according to Thompson.

[Related: Ryan is a 'down-home type of guy']

Ryan and Thompson were both members of Tau Zeta Epsilon, a selective arts and music society at the college whose members are referred to as "Tizzies." For Ryan and Thompson's initiation party, new members had to dress up as characters from "Looney Tunes." (The pledge process is called "tea-ing," because of the teas applicants attend.) "It was a cute little fun club to be a part of," Thompson said. "Wellesley's a real serious place [so] it was a way to have fun with gals ... who are like-minded."

Thompson, who is from Chicago, says few Wellesley girls came from the Midwest or the South, but still, Ryan managed to fit right in. Thompson has lost touch with Ryan since college, and Ryan didn't attend the class's 20th reunion last year.

After graduating cum laude in 1991, Ryan became a legislative aide to former Oklahoma Rep. Bill Brewster, a Blue Dog Democrat. During that time she kept up her studies by taking law school classes at George Washington University at night. After getting her J.D., she became a lobbyist and tax attorney with Williams & Jensen and then moved to PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to Reuters.

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She left Washington to move to Janesville, Wis., after meeting and marrying Rep. Paul Ryan when he was 30 and she 31.

"They fell in love and they were a great match," says Jodi Bond, a friend of the Ryans in Washington. Bond wasn't surprised that Ryan left her career in Washington to move to her husband's hometown and raise three children. "They were committed. They both had this vision for the country and for service, and you make sacrifices in order to serve and to build a great family."

According to Paul Ryan's financial disclosure forms, Janna Ryan is a millionaire from an inheritance from her mother, who died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer. But the Ryans are anything but flashy. Janna wore a thrifty dress from Kohl's at one of her first campaign appearances last weekend, and neighbors have described the couple as down-home and friendly.

"She's very low-maintenance and very modest," Bond said of Ryan.

Ryan has used those same words to describe her husband, in an interview with People. "You know, he's pretty low-maintenance," she said. "Paul is someone who goes with the flow and has one of the sunniest demeanors and most positive outlooks of anyone I've ever met. So I'd say Mitt'll probably have a lot of fun with him."

--Holly Bailey contributed to this report.