The Gap in Sydney is an ocean cliff that offer a picturesque view from high above the Tasman Sea. People head to this popular point to take in the sights and smells of the salty sea air. They also go there to kill themselves. The Gap is one of the more popular places for suicide victims; they can simply step off of the relatively easy to access side and plummet to their death on the rocky sea below.
For nearly 5 decades, Don Ritchie, known as the Angel of the Gap, lived in a home overlooking that gap. During that time, he saved at least 160 lives by being a friend to those that came to die.
Mr. Ritchie would always keep a watchful eye on the cliffs, monitoring them for someone who appeared to be considering the option of toppling over the edge. When he saw someone who was a likely candidate, he would approach them softly and ask “Can I help you in some way?” He would even invite them in to his home for tea, and more often than not, they would walk way from the edge and take him up on the offer.
Many showed up years later to thank him for what he had done. One survivor gave him a painting of an angel with the rays of the sun and the simple message: “An angel who walks amongst us.”
“My ambition has always been to just get them away from the edge, to buy them time, to give them the opportunity to reflect and give them the chance to realize that things might look better the next morning,” he said. “You just can’t sit there and watch them,” he added. “You’ve got to try and save them.”
Although he didn’t strive for fame, the man who became known as “The Angel of the Gap” was recognized for his contributions. In 2006, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, in 2010 both he and his wife Moya were named “Citizens of the Year” and in 2011, he received Local Hero Award for Australia by the National Australia Day Council, who said “His kind words and invitations into his home in times of trouble have made an enormous difference … With such simple actions, Don has saved an extraordinary number of lives.”
The gentle man who saved so many with his calm words and friendly smile spent the last year of his life battling cancer. He passed away in May 2012, surrounded by family. His attitude towards the gap remained positive throughout it all. In one of his final interviews, he said “I imagine somebody else will come along and do what I’ve been doing,”