Dr. John Ritchie Lester (1919–1999)
The Fall of 1999 saw the passing of Dr. John R. Lester, and with his death we count one fewer who actually saw Gurdjieff with his own eyes, heard his voice with his own ears, sat at Gurdjieff’s table. To members of a wide array of Gurdjieff work groups around the world, John was a trusted friend and mentor, a companion in the Work, a seeker in the truest sense.
A native of Australia, John was born on April 21, 1919 and went to England in 1939 to study medicine. His views and interests extended beyond those of the established medical orthodoxy of the time, and after completing his medical training he went on to qualify as an osteopath. His life was forever altered when he met Jane Heap and then Mr. Gurdjieff, who he visited in Paris with other members of Jane’s London group after the war.
One story Dr. Lester related from his time with Gurdjieff is especially memorable. John asked Mr. Gurdjieff a question concerning an affirmation exercise. “He turned his full attention towards me, which, I can tell you, was considerable, and said ‘Is more important that you say I am, than is that you breathe.’” Gurdjieff also implored John to “read my book.” This was an indication which was taken seriously by Dr. Lester; for the remainder of his life he was an avid student of All and Everything.
After Jane Heap’s death John remained active in the work of the Gurdjieff Society in London, where he was a Council member and a Movements demonstrator. After his retirement from medical practice he moved to the US, joining his colleague from Jane’s group, Annie Lou Staveley, at Two Rivers Farm, the group she founded in Aurora, Oregon. John remained an active force at this work center despite an ongoing battle with leukemia. When he died at sunrise on September 29th, the Two Rivers Farm men’s Movements class were working on “Ceremony for a Dead Dervish.”
Because of his passionate interest in everyone and everything around him, he was a magnet—people of all types and persuasions were drawn to him. John was wholehearted—he never did anything half-way—but he was unconcerned with maintaining the status quo or establishing or exercising credentials, though he certainly possessed more than his share of them. He was deeply concerned and troubled by the conditions of man’s existence—the problems and responsibilities which we face now more than ever—but this concern was complimented and balanced by an extraordinary sense of humor.
Above all, Dr. Lester was a student of life, continually asking questions; never content with his own answers but always interested in the conclusions, perspectives and the Work of those around him. Through his own experience he understood what Jane Heap meant when she said that man is a self-evolving being—that Nature has brought us as far as she can on her own, and in order to fulfill his destiny, man must work, struggle to discover his true nature and to find his place in the cosmic plan. John persisted in this struggle, and, in this sense, served as an example and inspiration for us all.
from Gurdjieff International Review (Spring 2000 Issue, Vol. III (2))