Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Back from the brink

Don Ritchie lived close to the Gap, a notorious clifftop suicide spot in East Sydney. But while others would just shrug their shoulders and wonder why people top themselves, he would offer a kind word and a smile and try to convince them life was worth living after all.

Over the years Don Ritchie saved between 160 and 500 people from throwing themselves onto the rocks. But not any longer. The man who was named "The Angel of the Gap" has just died at the age of 85.

"He could read some people needed help" said his sister Sue. He would offer them a kind word and befriend them, and invite them back home for a cup of tea and a bite to eat. "That was often all that was needed to turn people around."

He received presents, Christmas cards and letters from those he saved, sometimes decades later. "It's really rewarding knowing that the action I took changed the course of their lives and got them back on track" he said.

What impresses me is that he was so sure the would-be suicides didn't really want to die, and so sure some temporary crisis meant they were looking at their life in a distorted way, that he was bold enough to intervene and try to change their mind.

He refused to say "It's got nothing to do with me." He refused to just pass by on the other side and say it was someone else's problem. He refused to accept that their lives were as black and hopeless as they made out.

I tend to assume that someone who is suicidal has been that way for so long, with the sense of despair and torment growing ever deeper and all-consuming, that second thoughts are unlikely. But Don Ritchie clearly had other ideas, and acted on them.

I wonder if another of the locals will step into his shoes and take on the same role, or if potential suicides will now simply jump off the cliff with nothing to stop them.

Pic: Don Ritchie at the Gap 

22 comments:

John Gray said...

nick
this sort of tribute is a cracker!
nice!

Bijoux said...

That is a truly delightful story, though sad that he has passed. I hope another brave soul steps in to be the new angel.

Nick said...

John - A tribute made possible by the story of his determination to help others.

Bijoux - I hope so too. If it's so possible to change someone's mind, how awful it will be if in the future nobody bothers.

Macy said...

Sometimes all that people want is a cup of tea and a chat??
Unbelievable that such a small act of kindness is needed to save a life.

But then I suppose The Samaratins have been established on the same principle too.

Grannymar said...

Don Ritchie sounds like one very special person. May he rest in peace.

Nick said...

Macy - I think that's true. The Samaritans' basic principle is just to listen to someone and help them get a new perspective on their problems.

Grannymar - He was certainly a very special person. How many people would be so charitable to a stranger in need?

Cheerful Monk said...

What an uplifting story! Thank you.

nursemyra said...

He was a well known person here in Sydney, quiet and unassuming. He will be sadly missed.

I'm curious as to how you heard about him Nick. Was his death reported overseas?

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Wow. That is indeed thought-provoking.

I'm like you, and tend to think it's pretty hopeless trying to persuade someone who's reached that stage. And deep down, I feel that it's not my place to tell people what to do with their lives, so perhaps that is a factor, too.

But this guy's story really makes you think and re-evaluate. He saved so many people, who could otherwise have died tragically. Maybe I need to be more outspoken myself.

Nick said...

Monk - Isn't it just? He was convinced he could bring about a change of heart.

Myra - His death was reported in the London Telegraph (see link) and also on Sky. And incidentally, Jenny and I have visited the Gap and know exactly where it is, which makes the story more poignant.

Nick said...

Jay - This is it, you feel you shouldn't interfere in someone else's life, even if they're just about to end that life. Perhaps we're just being callous rather than respectful.

Wisewebwoman said...

I've read of him before, an amazing human.
It touches a deep chord with me both as a person who has prevented others and one who was saved.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - So you can identify with both sides, as it were. Do you think he's right that most people actually want to be saved, and a concerned person like him can turn them back?

Rummuser said...

I read about him here too. What a personality he must have had to inspire that kind of confidence in people to simply go with him for a chat and a cuppa!

Nick said...

Ramana - Indeed, he must have had a very warm and sympathetic personality to have had such a positive effect.

Secret Agent Woman said...

What a compassionate guy - that's really a wonderful calling.

I'm truly curious, though, about the "between 160 and 500" figure.

Nick said...

Agent - The uncertainty is because only 160 are officially recorded, while his family believe the actual figure is closer to 500.

speccy said...

Inspirational

Nick said...

Speccy - Very inspirational. He decided he could help these people, and he went out and helped them. He didn't feel it was nothing to do with him.

Los Angelista said...

What a lovely, lovely man. Everyone who has lost someone to suicide, as I have, can't help but want to confer sainthood on him. Thanks for sharing.

Nick said...

Liz - He was a man with a warm and generous heart, and it's sad that he's gone. I hope someone puts up a statue in his memory.

blackwatertown said...

Great man. No doubt about it.