In 1947, as a 37-year-old rancher in Arizona, [Dr. Mellon] became engrossed with the life and work of Dr. Schweitzer, the Alsatian medical missionary, philosopher and musician whose hospital at Lambarene, in what is now Gabon, had become world famous.
Dr. Mellon and his second wife, Gwen, set out to emulate Dr. Schweitzer. They enrolled at Tulane University, he to obtain a medical degree and she to become a laboratory technician.
They visited several countries in South America searching for a suitable place to build a hospital but found their spot in Haiti, where Dr. Mellon was gathering material for his doctoral dissertation.
With the aid of the Haitian Government, an abandoned Standard Fruit Company plantation at Deschapelles, in the Artibonite River Valley, 90 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, was made available to the Mellons for their hospital.
Dr. Mellon received his medical degree in 1954 at the age of 44. Two years later, the Albert Schweitzer Hospital opened its doors. The building, with equipment comparable to that in American hospitals of the period, cost $2 million and was financed by a foundation established by the Mellons.
Dr. Mellon worked on the medical staff at the outset but soon became heavily involved in community development, installing wells, water systems and roads. The hospital continues to serve the people of the Artibonite Valley, a rural area where 150,000 Haitians live and where poverty is the rule and disease is widespread.
The Mellons and their staff of Haitian doctors and nurses have treated tens of thousands of patients over the years.
Dr. Mellon was a member of one of America's wealthiest families. His great-uncle, Andrew W. Mellon, made a fortune in banking, oil and aluminum and served as Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920's. His father, William Sr., was the head of Gulf Oil and the Republican chairman for Pennsylvania and left a multimillion-dollar estate when he died in 1949.
William Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, went to Choate School and spent a year at Princeton before going to work in the Mellon Bank. He secretly married a Pittsburgh society figure, Ethel Grace Rowley, in 1929; the marriage ended in divorce in 1938.
In the mid-1930's, Dr. Mellon went to Arizona, where he bought a ranch near Rimrock and later added other ranches to his holdings, becoming a working cattle rancher. Shortly before World War II, he met Gwen Grant Rawson, who was working as a riding instructor to support her three children. He and Mrs. Rawson were married in 1946. Served in the O.S.S. During the war, Dr. Mellon served in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. With a working knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, he was sent on missions to Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.
In 1947, back in Arizona, he read an article in Life on Dr. Schweitzer and his hospital in what was then French Equatorial Guinea. He wrote to Lambarene, asking how he might go about doing what his new idol had done.
A few months later he received a long handwritten letter from Dr. Schweitzer offering detailed advice about medical training and how to set up a mission.
Armed with this advice, the Mellons uprooted themselves and enrolled at Tulane to begin what was to become their life vocation.
William Larimer Mellon Jr., an heir to his family's banking and oil fortune who in midlife became a disciple of Albert Schweitzer and spent his remaining years as a medical missionary in Haiti, died of cancer and Parkinson's disease on [August 3, 1989] at his home in Deschapelles, Haiti. He was 79 years old.
[Text taken from nytimes.com on December 9, 2014]
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