Australian man credited with saving hundreds of suicide attempts with a smile, a cup of tea, and a genuine listening ear.
Don Ritchie spent 50 years keeping watch on the cliffs near his house. The steep cliffs outside Sydney, Australia — known as The Gap — were an often-visited spot for people wanting to commit suicide. But Ritchie felt compelled to intervene.
“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?”
After starting a conversation with the would-be jumper, Ritchie would often invite them to his home for tea, breakfast, a beer, or more conversation. “I’m offering them an alternative, really,” Ritchie once said. “To get them away from their mind, to get them away from going over while I’m here.”
Ritchie and his wife moved into their home across the street from the cliffs in 1964.
“We’d been here only a short time before I realized that a lot of people were coming over here and looking at the view and the next thing I find, they disappeared!” he said in an interview. “We’ve been involved in lots of these incidents and it’s just become part of a way of life for me to sort of sell them the idea that why not come over and talk about it and see how we can fix it.”
After being awarded the 2011 Australian of the Year Award, Ritchie had wise words for those of us who think that suicide intervention is something complicated and best left to professionals:
“Always remember the power of the simple smile, a helping hand, a listening ear and a kind word.”
Ritchie — famously known as “The Angel of The Gap” — passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer. “I imagine somebody else will come along and do what I’ve been doing,” he said in one of his last interviews.
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Photo: Australian of the Year Awards/YouTube