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In 1946 he became a junior lecturer at Canterbury Univery College, now the University of Canterbury, becoming professor of music and head of department in 1962, and deputy vice-chancellor from 1977 until 1980. He retired in 1985.
His compositions included music for brass band, choir, instrumental ensembles and orchestra. He was director of music for Christchurch's 1974 British Commonwealth Games and for Pope John Paul II's visit to New Zealand.
In 1958 he founded the John Ritchie String Orchestra, which later became the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
Ritchie died in Christchurch on his ninety-third birthday, 29 September 2014.