The Angel of the GapDon Ritchie

During World War II, Ritchie served in the Royal Australian Navy, and witnessed the surrender of the Japanese. After the war, he sold life insurance. But it was what he did on the side that he really made his mark. For more than 50 years he lived near “The Gap”, a cliff overlooking Watson’s Bay in Woollahra, New South Wales — a popular suicide spot. He saw plenty of people heading to The Gap to kill themselves, but said “you can’t just sit there and watch them” — he intervened. First, by holding them down as his wife called for police, and later by just talking to them. “I was a salesman for most of my life,” he said, “and I sold them life.” It added up: he is credited with saving at least 160 people, and the unofficial count could be as high as 500. “Never be afraid to speak to those who you feel are in need,” Ritchie said after one rescue. “Always remember the power of the simple smile, a helping hand, a listening ear and a kind word.” He’d often invite them into his home for tea and talk. In 2006, Ritchie, known as “The Angel of the Gap”, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his “service to the community through programs to prevent suicide.” He died surrounded by family on May 13, at 85.

From This is True for 13 May 2012