Donald "Don" Ritchie, born 9 June 1925 in New South Wales, Australia, led a full and humble life. He first enlisted into the Royal Australian Navy at 14 as a seaman, served during World War II and even witnessed Japan's surrender in Tokyo Bay. So when he and his wife Moya settled down in a beautiful home with 180° views over the Pacific Ocean, he was glad for the peaceful sight.
The view however, turned out to be a lot less peaceful than Don originally imagined. It was a place known for death. A place where the sheer cliffs of Sydney Harbour not only attracted tourists, but also acted as a magnet to those who had lost all hope.
It was not long after moving in that Don noticed someone acting strangely at the lookout. They were going to jump!
The modest man quickly crossed the road and went to talk, offer a sympathetic ear, and a cup of tea. "You can't just sit there and watch them, I mean you've got to do something about it, anybody's like that. It gives them the chance of changing their lives" he said of his actions. "I don’t council them. I don’t tell them what they should and shouldn’t do in their lives. I wouldn’t know, and I wouldn’t want that responsibility. All I try to do is to get them away from the edge."
Over the past 5 decades, Don has saved at least 160 lives, though many believe the true figure is closer to 400-500. In 2006, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his numerous rescues, and in 2011 he received the Local Hero Award of Australia.
Don tells of his acts as normal but unspoken. Suicide and attempted suicide were not something that someone should speak about, and don't recounts friends of 80 years not knowing what he did so often. He said that's "the taboo nature of suicide. But attitudes are changing." He was approached to share his story and helps others speak up. "Now that it has come out, I see it as a very positive thing."
Don, who after the war worked in the insurance industry, would later tell the friends and relatives of those he saved: "I was a salesman for most of my life and I sold them life."
The power of words is often underestimated, but those simple words have meant the world to so many who crossed Don's path. He will be forever remembered. SHARE Don's story with everyone you know, and let them know that there are people who care.