Fellow rowers remember woman they call a hero

12/03/2012 12:01 AM

12/03/2012 9:00 AM

Bea Ritchie lived and loved the outdoors.

Nearly 60 friends and family came together Sunday not far from the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers to honor the woman many considered a hero.

Many sat on lawn chairs or stood beneath giant trees. Birds flew overhead and chirped. Leaves rustled in warm breezes.

Ms. Ritchie, a geologist and national-caliber rowing competitor, was struck and killed Nov. 21 by a pickup while she and her husband were walking their dog on a gravel road in west Sedgwick County. She was 52.

“She was at the first Learn-To-Row class I took through the City’s Park and Recreation,” said Jennie Lane, a rower new to the sport this year. “She was instrumental in all of us learning to row. If I had to name a hero, it has to be her.”

A candle burned on a table in front of the group near the Little Arkansas River. Her rowing shell was nearby. A portrait of her winning a gold medal in Oklahoma was displayed on a pedestal.

Some in the group wore their rowing workout clothes. They planned a memorial row in her honor after the service.

For those not planning to row, flowers were available at the rowing dock to place in the river in Ms. Ritchie’s memory.

“Today we come together to grieve her loss, to celebrate and remember her life,” said Bob Lakin, president of the Wichita Rowing Association. “Bea loved the outdoors and all of nature. This river holds ... special significance for Bea.”

The hourlong service included a eulogy by Ms. Ritchie’s husband, Bob Symonds; and recorded songs by James Taylor, Debby McClatchy and John Denver.

The theme song from the movie “Chariots of Fire” was played to recognize not only the rowing medals Ms. Ritchie had won – 19 medals at regional and national regattas – but also the ones she hoped to accomplish in the future.

“She had a gentle strength,” Lane said. “There was something special about her. She was very competitive but always supportive. If anybody else wanted to get on the water, she was right there helping, always.”

In addition to Symonds, Ms. Ritchie is survived by two sisters, Frances Ritchie Holmes, Arcadia, Mich., and Margaret Ritchie, Kalamazoo, Mich.; and her mother, Beatrice Ritchie, Kalamazoo.

Donations can be made in Ms. Ritchie’s name to the Wichita Rowing Association online at www.wichitarowing.org or by mailing a check to the Wichita Rowing Association, 16619 Princeton Lane, Clearwater, KS 67026.

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