Men like Ralph Turpin

Nothing that we have read or heard about Mr. Ralph Turpin has caused us to believe that he was anything but an ordinary Guyanese, a man, apparently, of modest means, possessed of a caring spirit and a passion for reaching out to those most in need. In truth, in a society where a preoccupation with self and an indifference to the circumstances of the less fortunate have become distressingly commonplace, we are, sometimes, either inclined to forget that men like Ralph Turpin live amongst us, or else, we fail miserably to recognize the magnitude of the contribution which they make.

In the early hours of Friday September 16, Ralph Turpin was gunned down outside Stabroek Market allegedly by an intoxicated, gun-toting policeman whom, in all likelihood, neither knew nor cared about the enormity of the crime that he was committing nor the extent of the loss that he was inflicting upon this nation.  Mr. Turpin, according to reports, died while intervening to bring an end to his crazed assailant’s ill-treatment of two women. From all accounts he may well have known that the shooter was armed and that his senses had become deformed by alcohol; and if that was indeed the case, Ralph Turpin not only knowingly placed himself in harm’s way to try to bring an end to an act of bullying but also sought to save the gunman from himself. Ralph Turpin was several times the man that his killer was.

Since his death, we have come to know more about the man that Ralph Turpin was; and from the little that we have learnt he was a very special person. He had, it appears, immersed his life in a challenging crusade of helping to tackle one of the most daunting problems facing Guyana today…the problem of drug addiction. He embraced a small part of the growing army of drug addicts, the wretched of the earth, men and women who cling desperately to the bottommost rung of the social ladder, living in a physical and emotional condition that renders them vulnerable to scorn, abuse and aggression. Most of us are too preoccupied with living our own lives, too revolted by their circumstances, too lacking in the courage and the caring to dare to reach out. Reaching out to drug addicts requires special men and women with special dispositions and special callings…men like Ralph Turpin.  It takes men like him to challenge themselves to seek to salvage lives which we so often regard as irretrievable.

That Ralph Turpin reached out and so much so that in the wake of his death reformed drug addicts lamented his loss in tears and anguish and inmates of the half-way house which he ran from his own home reacted to news of his murder with grief and anger and a sense of profound loss, as though parts of their own lives had been snuffed out by his killer’s bullet; and when you spoke with some sufficiently moved by his untimely passing as to earnestly want to eulogize Ralph Turpin, you came to understand both the magnitude of the man and the significance of his mission. He pitted his skills, his commitment and his belief that love and caring and the opening up of an alternative pathway could triumph over the terrifying chasm of drug addiction; and sometimes he triumphed.

Ralph Turpin choose the special and demanding vocation of salvaging lives shattered by the ravages of drugs and only time will tell how many more lives were lost on the morning of February 16 when he laid down his own.

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