Friday, June 18, 2010

Australian angel

The Gap is a picturesque rocky outcrop in Sydney Harbor that also happens to be the most frequently chosen location for Australians to commit suicide, with an average of 30 jumpers a year - and 15 times that number who decide not to make that 90M leap. Meet a man the media is calling an angel: Don Ritchie (pictured) has gently dissuaded some 160 potential suicides over the past 50 years. Ritchie, 82, is a former life insurance salesman who lives right across the street from the landmark and scans the ocean view while reading his newspaper. When he sees a likely jumper, Ritchie quietly engages them in conversation. Some accept his invitation to follow him home for something to eat or drink. Others slip out of his grasp, sometimes literally. He describes an experience with a young man who, as it turns out, grew up next door to Ritchie and played with his grandchildren: ‘‘I went over and I tried to talk to him, asking him questions about where he was from. He wouldn’t talk much, just kept looking straight ahead. I was talking to him for about half an hour…thinking I was making headway. I said ‘why don’t you come over for a cup of tea, or a beer, if you’d like one?’ He said ‘no’ and stepped straight off the side…his hat blew up and I caught it in my hand.’" The ones he saves return with thank you gifts or remember him with Christmas cards.

Although he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his interventions, and he and his wife have been named 2010's Citizens of the Year by the town council, he shuns the limelight for fear it will attract more would-be suicides to Gap Park. He is glad for cell phones, which other visitors use to alert authorities, since his fence-climbing days are over. Ritchie doesn't try to counsel the people he meets, he just lends a friendly ear. He has heard from many survivors that a smile goes a long way. When he was interviewed, he was reading the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness. Every now and then, he would glance up to scan the horizon for anyone who might need him. He'll keep doing so, he says, for as long as he's here. Asked about when he's not, he chuckles softly and says, "I imagine somebody else will come along and do what I've been doing." Still, the council has succeeded in having security cameras installed and has lobbied the government for additional security measures.


  1. Fascinating! And sad. He has certainly seen a lot of suffering. Good man.

  2. Certainly sounds like an angel to me.


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