Sunday, September 03, 2006

In memory of a good neighbor, Martin Ritter Jr.

By Nancy Jane Moore

My neighbor Mr. Ritter passed last week. His death broke the hearts of everyone on the block.

We're not an especially close-knit block. People know each other, but we talk on the sidewalk, not in each other's living rooms.

But everyone knew Mr. Ritter. We often saw him walking down the street or alley, stopping to talk with each person he met. Like the traditional Zen monk, Mr. Ritter was not intimidated by rank or shows of strength. He presented the same friendly, but firm, manner regardless of whether he was talking to an elderly woman, a tough kid, or an elected official.

A tall, slim man, Mr. Ritter still walked with the cockiness of someone half his age. I don't know how old he was, but he was already retired when I first moved into the neighborhood fifteen years ago, so he certainly wasn't a young man. He'd managed to make the transition to the wise elder -- a role he definitely played on our block -- without forgetting what it was like to be young.

It was Mr. Ritter who kept making phone calls to the mayor's office until they finally sent a front-end loader out to clear the snow from our block after a particularly bad blizzard. And I'm sure he was responsible for the fact that both our street (a narrow one-way route used only by people who live here and their visitors) and our alley were repaved years ago while streets around us in worse condition are still full of potholes.

His yard has always been the showpiece of the block. His grass was always cut to just the right length -- he used clippers, not a mower. And it was real grass -- not the green weeds that most of the rest of us have. There were flowers, statues, an archway leading to the side of the house, all impeccably maintained. So was his Jaguar, kept under a cover when not in use. It must be an old car, because he's had it as long as I've lived here, but it still looks brand new.

My neighbor told me he fell from the roof he was repairing on his other house in Michigan -- so typical that he would be fixing it himself. It says a lot about his presence on the block that he was so well known even though he spent a lot of the year in other places.

Mr. Ritter never ran for public office, at least not in the years that I knew him. He provided leadership for our neighborhood not to build up his reputation, but just because it was what he did. He took care of things.

Every neighborhood needs someone like Mr. Ritter. We of the 800 block of Somerset Place N.W. in Washington, D.C., were lucky to have him for as long as we did. We're going to miss him.

No comments: