For nearly 50 years, Don Ritchie saved the lives of people who were on the verge of suicide. During his lifetime, he managed to stop 160 people from plunging to their deaths at Australia’s most famous suicide point – a cliff called ‘the Gap’ – with just a kind word and a smile. Although he passed away a couple of years ago at age 85, he is still fondly remembered as ‘the Angel of the Gap’.
Ritchie was an extraordinary gentleman who deliberately chose to live right across the street from The Gap, just so he could continue saving lives. He would wake up every morning and look out of the window for “anyone standing too close to the precipice.” If he saw someone and thought they might jump, he would simply walk over with his palms facing up, smile, and say: “Is there something I could do to help you?”
That sounds incredibly simple, but the trick worked – Ritchie managed to strike a conversation with these people and ended up inviting them back to his house for tea or breakfast. “And that was all that was often needed to turn people around, and he would say not to underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile,” said his daughter Sue Ritchie Bereny.
“I’m offering them an alternative, really,” Ritchie once said. “I always act in a friendly manner. I smile. Over the years, I’ve spoken to many, many of them – just a way of saying, ‘What are you doing over here? Please come and talk to me. Come over and have a cup of tea, come and have a beer.’ To get them away from their mind, to get them away from going over while I’m here.”
Ritchie had served in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II and spent his later years working as a life insurance salesman. In 1964, he moved into a house on Old South Head Road, right across the road from the southern end of the Gap Park. He began saving suicidal strangers soon after.
Read More: Here