Watson’s Bay resident Don Ritchie passed away this week, aged 86. His wife, daughters, and grandchildren were with him at the time.
I’ve never met Don, nor his family. I only know of him from what I’ve read, and yet like many others, I will never forget the difference he made. Why does Don Ritchie deserve to be remembered? He was not an entrepreneur, or a successful artist or designer. He does not leave behind a legacy of work in the usual sense, and he is unlikely to feature in a coffee table book, or marketing handbook.
What Don did was save lives. Not through art or business. He used only his smile. And sometimes a cup of tea.
For the last 48 years, he made it his personal mission to keep watch over The Gap, a notorious Sydney suicide spot. Don is acknowledged to have stopped about 160 people taking their lives, with the simple question “Is there something I could do to help you? ”
According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, suicide is the number one cause of death for men and women aged 15 to 34 in Australia. For men, it remains the leading cause of death up until age 44. To put that into context, take a look around your place of work. Look at the faces. The probability is that the next person to die, will do so by taking their own life. To me, this is the quiet tragedy of our time.
I’ve been to The Gap, but never in the same context as those that Don helped. But I have fought their battle, and I understand the places it can take you. My family and friends have always been there for me, but not everyone is so lucky, or are able to see how lucky they are.
I won’t presume to speak for Don, but from outward appearances, his thinking on the subject of suicide was uncluttered. He didn’t ask permission. He didn’t overburden himself by trying to see the bigger picture, or questioning whether his contribution was really making a difference. He simply did what he could. That’s a great idea if ever there was one. If there is a lesson from Don’s life that I hope I can remember, it is to keep life personal. Organisations don’t work with populations. People help people. Don didn’t ask “Is there something we could do to help them?”
He might have only changed a small part of the world, but for those people he saved, and for the families that love them, I’m sure it was more than enough. We might all dream of doing more, but I only hope I can do as much.
A service for Don Ritchie OAM will be held at the Naval Memorial Chapel at HMAS Watson, Watsons Bay on Friday at 1.30pm. There will be a celebration of his life after the service at the Rose Bay RSL.