I recently read a story reported by a major television news station that took me by complete surprise for its’ life affirming message and the inspiration and simplicity of the man about whom it was written: 86 year-old Don Ritchie, who had recently died in Sydney.
Don lived in the Sydney bayside area of Watson’s Bay, close to a place called ‘The Gap’, a high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, infamous for the hundreds of people who have ended their lives by throwing themselves from it.
Don, a former navy seaman and ironically, life insurance salesman, had lived in Watson’s Bay his whole life and over the years became a local hero after one day deciding to do something about the disturbing numbers of people committing suicide on his doorstep.
He began patrolling the paths around the Gap in order to coax the desperate away from danger, sometimes even forcibly removing them from the edge. He would talk to them, trying to calm them down by offering help and inviting them into his home for tea. Don never knew how many people he helped, but Watson’s Bay locals believe it may have been up to 160 people. Numbers aside, Don did something we can all do, every single day. His total conviction in the absolute value of human life and his generosity of heart allowed him to give hope to those most in need of it.
He urged people to never be afraid to speak up. In an interview from a few years ago, Don said, “you can’t live here and just watch them kill themselves. Well, I can’t”; “always remember the power of a simple smile, a helping hand, a listening ear and a kind word.”
In a world that says it’s okay to end the life of a child in the womb, where the elderly and the vulnerable are targeted through assisted suicide and euthanasia and where the disabled are shamelessly removed from society through eugenic abortion, Don did what he knew to be right and fought for the lives of those who couldn’t or didn’t want to fight for themselves.
When Don’s wife Moya asked him what he said to people contemplating suicide, he said, “I go over and sell them life.”
This is exactly what we need to do too.