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Sydney's 'Angel of The Gap' dies

Don Ritchie was officially noted to have saved some 160 people from taking their lives. -AFP

Mon, May 14, 2012

SYDNEY - An Australian man known as the "Angel of The Gap" for his efforts to save scores of would-be suicides from throwing themselves from one of Sydney's most scenic look-outs has died aged 86.

During the almost 50 years he spent living opposite The Gap - a notorious sandstone cliff overlooking the coast - Don Ritchie regularly coaxed desperate people back from the edge, offering them a cup of tea and a chat.

"Sydney's troubled have lost their angel," said the city's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

His daughter Sue Ritchie Bereny said her father, a former navy seaman who served in World War II and then built a corporate career, had loved to look out from his front room at the ocean but was also very sensitive to troubled souls.

He told his daughter he would simply approach people and say: "Is there something I could do to help you?"

"And that was all that was often needed to turn people around, and he would say not to underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile," she told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Ritchie was officially noted to have saved some 160 lives since he moved into his Watsons Bay house in 1964 - once even tackling a man on the edge of a cliff to prevent him from killing himself.

His family believes the real number was much higher.

Ritchie was a great mixture of strength and compassion, his daughter said, describing him as "an everyday person who did an extraordinary thing for many people that saved lives, without any want of recognition".

Although modest, Ritchie - who according to reports died peacefully at his home on Sunday - was given a local hero award by the National Australia Day Council last year.

"In a situation where most would turn a blind eye, Don has taken action... With such simple actions Don has saved an extraordinary number of lives," the council said.

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