Don Ritchie has spent more than 50 years living next to a famous suicide cliff known as “The Gap” in Australia. He would get up every morning and stare out the window, looking for “anyone standing too close to the precipice”. If he saw anyone thinking of jumping, he would walk up to them and start a conversation.

“Why don’t you come and have a cup of tea?” He often told them, and when they turned to see him, his smile often greeted them. Considered by many to be the guardian angel of the gap, Richie has saved about 160 lives, though Richie himself doesn’t count. “I’m really offering them an alternative.” Richie said. “I always act friendly, and I smile.”

(Australian cliffs of ‘The Gap’. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Not everyone can hear Richie, as it is estimated that one person a week commits suicide on the slopes, but Richie persists nonetheless. He said he did the best he could with each one, and if he loses one, he accepts that he couldn’t have done anything else.

Often just showing a little love was enough, “and that was often all we needed to change people’s attitude. Don’t underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile,” said her daughter, Sue Richie. Bernie. Richie received heartfelt letters and visits from those he saved, sometimes 10 or 20 years later.

(Image credit: Steve Bacon)

Ritchie continued to live in the house until his death in 2012, and had no problem living close to the slopes despite his constant suicide attempts. He was awarded a Medal for all his rescues, and he and his wife were named citizens of Woollahra General Council, He was also awarded the National Hero of Australia award.

In a situation where most people would turn a blind eye, Don took action,” wrote the National Council of Australia. “With these simple actions, Don saved an extraordinary number of lives. Don’s story touched the hearts of all Australians and inspired us to rethink what it means to be a good neighbour. Don Ritchie’s beautiful way of reaching out and showing love to those at the lowest point in their lives is truly a poignant example of compassion.

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