Death and life and death of a great man

The Charlottesville newspaper’s obituary for George Gordon Ritchie Jr. M.D., 84, of Irvington, Virginia, who died Monday, October 29, 2007, among other things says this:

He was a physician, speaker and author and a graduate of the University of Richmond, Medical College of Virginia and served his residency in Psychiatry at the University of Virginia. During his residency, he won the William James Research Award for Research in Psychiatry and helped found the David C. Wilson Hospital in Charlottesville and was president of the Universal Youth Corporation for 20 years….

What this leaves unsaid is the greater part of his life.

In 1943, age 20, George died, was met by Jesus, and was given a guided tour of earth, heaven and hell. (I am saying this not tongue in cheek but straightforwardly, just as George very bravely did for more than 60 years.) Being in the presence of a kind of love that he had never experienced on Earth, more than anything, he wanted to stay right there. No dice; he was sent back, returning to a very sick body (he had died of pneumonia).

He had obtained a coveted admission into medical school, but after the pneumonia that had killed him, he was too weak to do the work needed, and too intimidated by the ideal he had set for himself. He failed out, and was told that because he had “wasted” a slot that another student might have filled, he would never be allowed back into the medical program. He wound up back in the army, serving in Europe as a medic.

He wanted to return to the other side, where he had been in the presence of an all-embracing love. Instead, he was kept on earth, and had the added bitterness to see a truckload of young soldiers killed — shortly after he had obeyed an impulse that told him to get off. He grieved for the boys who had been killed, and bitterly envied them at the same time.

Well, in the course of the next few months he learned that the important thing in life is less to experience the love he had felt when in the presence of Jesus than to give it. He saw this first in the person of a Polish survivor of the POW camps, and never forgot it.

As to the rest of his story, it may be found in My Life After Dying, which I edited, and which was later retitled Ordered to Return: My Life After Dying. He did get back into medical school, he did become a doctor, then years later he returned to school and became a psychiatrist.

We never know, in this life, what is our most important accomplishment, or who we may influence who in turn will influence others. George, many, many years after his NDE at age 20, would speak to a class at UVA among whom was a young man named Ray Moody—and Ray would be inspired to go on and research and write Life after Life which put the term NDE into common parlance.

And his influence on me, though it did not affect the culture as his influence on Ray Moody did, wasn’t exactly trivial. From my book Muddy Tracks:


On March 12, 1991, I realize that I was filled with blind rage, and The Boss told me why. I realized that I was running away from myself, and The Boss told me it stemmed from worrying about money, thinking (unconsciously, where it couldn’t be seen and therefore fought) that if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. “And,” The Boss added, “you are at the brink of a new life and a new way of living. You sense it and you’re very nervous.”

To uncover the rhythms underlying our lives, usually unsuspected by us, I can think of nothing as useful as a journal. Only four days later, I wrote, “Dr. George Ritchie’s book is great, a great book by a great man, and I am honored and privileged to read the manuscript and help make it become real.” And this was before I met the man.

George Ritchie’s near-death experience had years ago inspired Dr. Raymond Moody’s research into NDEs. His book Return From Tomorrow, published by a Christian publisher, had sold in six figures. But this second manuscript, which he called “Ordered to Return,” didn’t pass the Christian publishers’ litmus test. George demonstrated that the medieval church’s condemnation of reincarnation was a political decision, and stated on the basis of his professional career as doctor and psychiatrist that homosexuality was one of a range of sexual orientations occurring naturally.

I hadn’t known of his first book, but this manuscript I knew was important. I consulted The Boss, who said in part,

You were put into place to serve. You are willing to serve. This is good…. The other press might have had him but could not stomach his views — which is your opportunity. You can edit his prose and make it well. Do. Don’t trust anyone else to do it. Think it, live it, spread the word about it.

Well, we agreed to do the book. After the usual conferences and cogitations the title became My Life After Dying: Becoming Alive to Universal Love (which we later reissued in a new edition titled Ordered To Return: My Life After Dying).

As I read George’s manuscript, and still more as I worked with him, I experienced the extraordinary warmth of this man. I began making conscious efforts to open myself more to all aspects of my being, known and unknown, including not only other individuals but also the transcendent force I was calling God. I did not instantly transform my life. I was still short-tempered, irritable, and frequently depressed. But gradually I felt some progress. And I came to realize that essential to psychic abilities was the ability to feel and express love. I had known this first ten years before, reading Harmon Bro’s Edgar Cayce on Religion and Psychic Experience. Now I decided to live it.


George Ritchie did not come into the world to transform me, or to give Ray Moody his theme, but those were two beneficial side-effects that I happen to know about. George is home now. It would be interesting to know how he views his life from his newly regained perspective on the other side.

One thought on “Death and life and death of a great man

  1. Return from Tomorrow was the first book that began to broaden my understanding of the purpose of life and my existence on this earth. I always had the feeling that there was more to his experiences that what I was getting. I’m glad to see that it’s no fault of his, but rather that of the original publishers. I look forward to reading the newer, perhaps more in-depth versions of his story.

    I grew up in a religion that claimed to have “all the answers,” but as I continued in it, I came to understand that such claims always turn out to be shallow. NOBODY has ALL the answers, but SOME people have SOME answers. We each need to discover truth for ourselves and that can only be achieved through personal experience.

    This of course, isn’t meant to deny that truth can’t be seen in the stories of George G. Ritchie or Robert A. Monroe and other such great names. Such truths always lead me to the desire to experience such for myself, and not simply to experience the exact same things that happened to them. My desire is to experience that which God (the collective universe, or whatever term you’d like to use) has in story for me on a spiritual or out-of-body level.

    As I turn 21 this year, I look forward to what I believe will be a decade of transformation in my life. A few marvelous things have happened in my life and I fully expect more to come.

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