Ryan was primarily known as T. J. Ryan.
The Ryan government was the first majority Australian Labor Party government of Queensland. Some of the eight members of his Cabinet had connections with the early ALP of the 1880s and the Shearer's Strike. His government would provide the example which would see Labor in power in Queensland almost continuously until 1957. Major reform of Labor laws and agricultural policy were part of the Ryan legacy. At the election in May 1915, Labour came in with a large majority and Ryan became premier, chief secretary, and attorney-general, and an era of industrial legislation and state enterprise began. Among the measures passed were the industrial arbitration act, labour exchanges act, workers' compensation act, inspection of machinery and scaffolding act, factories and shops amendment act, and workers' compensation amendment act. This was one side of the Ryan government's activities but where it particularly broke fresh ground was the entrance of the state into trading activities. Stations were purchased and run as going concerns, and many retail butchers' shops were opened in Brisbane and other parts of Queensland. Railway refreshment rooms were taken over, state hotels were built and purchased, a produce agency was established, coal mines were acquired, iron and steel works were opened, and a state insurance department was established. Most of these activities were, however, disposed of and reverted to private hands within a few years. Ryan showed good generalship at the 1918 election and his party was again returned with a large majority.
The socialistic legislation of his party in Queensland caused some prejudice against Ryan when he entered federal politics, but he soon overcame this by the force of his intellectual qualities and his personal honesty and charm. In July 1921 he went to Queensland, against his doctor's advice, to help the Labour candidate at the Marawa by-election, contracted pneumonia, and died on 1 August 1921 in Glenco Hospital, Barcaldine. He had just completed his forty-fifth year.
He married in 1910, Miss L. V. Cook, who proved a great helpmate to him. She survived him with a son and a daughter, and in 1944 was the Queensland government representative at Melbourne. The wording on the metal plaque on the pedestal on which Thomas Ryan's statue stands in Brisbane, describes him as: Scholar - Jurist - Statesman.
The Federal electoral division of Ryan is named after him.