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Doug Ritchie remembered: ‘He wanted us to continue the fight’

On his final ride to the hospital, Doug Ritchie remained the man loved by so many in the North.

“Even to the very last day, the last ride to the hospital with a friend,” recalls his wife, France Benoit. “He gently asked this friend to turn off the engine, to stop idling.

“The friend was doing that to keep the van warm for Doug – but nope, for Doug it was, ‘We’ve got to stop idling.’

“He wanted us to continue the good fight and be gentle warriors like he was. He was steadfast in his pursuit of equality and saving the environment. I hope, and he hoped, people will continue that work for him.”

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Ritchie, who died on Saturday at the age of 52, was well-known for his environmental work in the Northwest Territories. An environmental stewardship fund in the NWT is now planned in his honour.

He only knew of his pancreatic cancer for a month before it claimed him, having been first diagnosed on December 9, 2014.

“Right away, we made a decision to be accepting of the diagnosis and to take advantage, as best we could, of the little time we had left together – us as a couple, and also us as a community,” says Benoit.

“We invited neighbours, friends and family to join us in this journey that we didn’t really plan for. That is what made it worthwhile.

“Doug was not in pain at all, and that is a very comforting thing for me – even in the last few days and hours.”

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Hundreds of tributes have since arrived for Ritchie, not least from the Mayor of Yellowknife, Mark Heyck, who called him “an incredible person and one of the most active and engaged citizens this city has ever had”.

Benoit has been staggered by the support.

“His reach in the community was much wider than I’d thought,” she says.

“This outpouring of love and admiration from so many different facets of the community is so uplifting for me.

“Doug was a very, very humble person – he may be blushing at all of this – but for me it’s helping so much in the grieving process.”

Laurie Sarkadi, the editor of Edge YK, spent 15 years as Ritchie’s neighbour and remembers him not just for his laugh, but for the inspiration he proved to others – not least her children.

“Doug went into communities all across the North, educating on the environment and climate change,” says Sarkadi. “He was instrumental in educating people about things they could do every day to help save the planet.

“His diagnosis was quite a shock – there was really nothing that could be done for him.

“He died very quickly but it was also a lovely thing to watch, because the love, support and generosity he had shown to the community for so many years came back to him and his wife during that month. In that sense, there was a lot of grace.”

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