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Song of Haiti: The Lives of Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon

Larimer and Gwen Mellon devoted their lives - and Larry's portion of the Mellon family fortune -- to improving the lives of the impoverished people of Haiti

Sunday, September 17, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Two anteaters in the Garden of Eden led me to Haiti. They appeared not in some fantastic dream but in a dreamy fantasy painting by Roland Blain -- a Christmas gift from my wife.

The extraordinary range of Haitian artists fascinated me, and as a contributing editor to the magazine Art & Antiques, I wanted to write the "definitive" story on Haitian art. Late 20th-century art was "neo" everything -- no relief from expressionism, the frigidity of photorealism, the ennui of minimalism. Was there an antidote to the hopelessness in Western painting? I found it in the life-affirming art of an impoverished Caribbean island.

When Bill Bollendorf, a close friend and Haitian art gallery owner, took me there for the first time, I fell in love with the art, the people and the culture -- but, my God, the terrible filth of Port-au-Prince.

"Yes," mused my guide. "But I wonder how clean New York would be if they stopped collecting garbage and shut off the water?"

The disease and horrendous state of public health ...

"I wonder how healthy people in Pennsylvania would be if the doctor-to-population ratio were 1 to 200,000?"

I vaguely recalled hearing something about "Dr. Mellon's" hospital project in Haiti as a kid. But I never thought or knew any more about it until that day in Port-au-Prince, when someone said, "You're from Pittsburgh? Then you must know the Mellons' l'Hopital Schweitzer in Deschapelles."

I didn't, but soon would -- and my long-suffering family would put up with my disappearances during five trips to Haiti during the next six years. Midway, to test the waters for a book and find out if the story had only local or wider interest, I approached my old employers at the Post-Gazette with what was a new, nonfilm, "inspirational" direction for me. I hadn't written a word for them in seven years, except for a letter to the editor. In that post-strike PG era, "Song of Haiti became the first cover of the paper's new Sunday Magazine on March 7, 1993.

The response was stunning; the piece, reprinted nationally and internationally. Judge Eric Utne, editor-publisher of The Utne Reader, selected "Song of Haiti" for the National Sunday Magazine Editors Association award for Best Feature of 1993. Among other things, Utne's critique said, "It profiled a true American hero and the island people to whom he dedicated his life."

Not everyone heard or liked the music. The book was hard to get published -- no sex, no scandal. Finally, Public Affairs Books came to the rescue. Only University of Pittsburgh Press' retired editor Fred Hetzel, the Paris and Mellon families and the PG believed in it from the beginning.

Excerpts from the book, which include Dr. Larimer Mellon's Pittsburgh years in greater detail than ever before, appear below.




The following are excerpts from "Song of Haiti" (Public Affairs, $27.50) by Post-Gazette staff writer Barry Paris. When "Song of Haiti" first appeared as an article in the Post-Gazette Sunday Magazine in 1993, it included little about Dr. Larry Mellon's years in Pittsburgh and his family ties. Much of that information -- some of which did not make the book of the same title -- appears here.

In postwar Pittsburgh, there was no way to avoid the name and pervasive presence of the Mellons. Pittsburgh steel had defeated Hitler, and Mellon money had financed the mills. Mellon Bank held the mortgage to our parents' homes. Mellon Institute was doing crucial research for Carnegie Tech and developing a strange new thing called the "computer." Mellon funds subsidized a hundred other educational and cultural institutions in town. In history class, we studied Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's financial feats. His nephew Richard King Mellon was in our local news every day, spearheading the "Renaissance" to revive Pittsburgh and clean up its famously polluted air.

The one we never read about was William Larimer Mellon Jr. -- the odd Mellon out, who had quit Pittsburgh and the banking business decades earlier to become a rancher out West. In 1954, while I was putting dimes in my Mellon savings account, Larimer Mellon -- at the tender age of 45 -- was in his fourth year of medical school, preparing to devote the rest of his life and portion of the family fortune to the poorest people in the hemisphere.

On my first visit to Deschapelles, when Gwen Grant Mellon and I were discussing a possible collaboration on this book, she asked what other projects I had in the works. I said I was just finishing the autobiography of Tony Curtis, co-written by him and me, and waited for her opinion of Tony and his films. Silence. "Tony Curtis, the actor -- 'Some Like It Hot,'" I prompted.

Mrs. Mellon didn't know the name. How could that be? She was quite knowledgeable about Garbo and other actors and films we talked about earlier. Suddenly it dawned on me: She has lived and worked in Haiti since the early 1950s. Her au courant film-going ceased long before Tony Curtis or "Some Like It Hot" hit it big. The ignorance was mine, not hers, but I had embarrassed her a little. Abashed, I hurried to change the subject.

There was no shortage of subjects. Several days later, for instance, during a discussion of her medical training, she mentioned that she had dissected mosquitoes for an experimental syphilis-treatment program at Tulane University in New Orleans. I asked her to describe the process.

"Are you really interested?" she asked skeptically, not wanting to waste time if I were just humoring her. "If you are, I'll tell you. If you're not, I won't."

I assured her I really was. In my youth, I was an avid amateur entomologist and ornithologist and philatelist, among other juvenile eccentricities later replaced by such mature eccentricities as a fascination for irregular Ukrainian verbs and duck-billed platypi. I truly wanted to hear about the mosquitoes.

Convinced of my sincerity, Gwen held forth in detail. It was a brilliant recap. It was obvious she could've done it then and there, on the spot, if required. I exclaimed something facile to the effect of, "Wow! What a specialized skill, and you still know how to do it."

Pause. She looked out at the Cahos Mountains, and then, glancing at me from profile position, closed the subject on a sardonic note:

"I may not know Tony Curtis, but I know a few things."



Among the things Gwen Mellon knows is how to overcome the obstacles to founding, building and running -- for 45 years -- the greatest hospital in the poorest country of our hemisphere. It was her husband's idea, inspired by Albert Schweitzer. But the remarkable Dr. Larimer Mellon could never have accomplished it without her. They did it together, relatively late in life, after knowing a few things about ranching and raising children and managing a fortune first.

Larry's great-grandfather, Judge Tom Mellon (1813-1908), founded the family's banking empire, today valued at more than $6 billion. His brilliant grand-uncle, Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937), developed the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa) and served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Larry's father, William Larimer ("W.L.") Mellon Sr., was co-founder and president of Gulf Oil Corp. -- where Larry was expected to take his rightful place one day.

The youngest of W.L. and May Taylor Mellon's four children, Larry was born June 26, 1910. He called his mother "the great spiritual force in my life," and identified with her alienation from the phenomenal wealth into which she married: "I felt more at home with chambermaids than with my own group. Wealth really can't work for you. Either you get a cockeyed notion of your own importance or you get an inferiority complex. I guess [the latter] is what I had. Once I got the idea that dollars were foolish, the people chasing them seemed foolish."

The course had been charted for Larry Mellon, who had little to say in the matter. It was assumed he would enter the banking business or one of the companies Mellon Bank owned, the thought of which depressed him. "In those days," he said, "everyone wanted to be a bond salesman and belong to the right clubs. That was the limit of their ambition." His own ambitions were nonexistent. Certainly, he exhibited no special interest in medicine or the Caribbean -- except as a playground aboard the family yacht Vagabondia.

The Mellons did not always go ashore on their tropical cruises and seldom mixed with the natives when they did. Least of all were they curious about the "natives" on western Hispaniola -- first and poorest black republic in the world.



Racked by poverty, internal power struggles, black-mulatto racial strife and disputes with neighboring Santo Domingo, Haiti was bankrupt and had no choice but to accept a U.S. receivership forced upon it in 1905. Direct American rule began in 1915 after Haitian President Vilbrun Sam had his heart torn out by an angry mob -- an act that sufficiently appalled Woodrow Wilson to send in American Marines to occupy the country and arrest its political tumult.

However brutal and self-serving, U.S. military domination of Haiti brought relative stability to the hemisphere's most densely populated nation. The Marines and the few Americans back home who cared were shocked by Haiti's squalor and even more repelled by its superstitious religion -- voodoo -- mocked and feared in magazines and movies all over America and Europe.

Contrary to frightened foreign impressions and Hollywood depictions, Haitian voodoo wasn't and isn't concerned with sticking pins in dolls to destroy enemies, but with a lofty set of beliefs in African spirits called loas, who can be summoned when needed and who rule daily life as well as death. Among its phenomena is the belief in zombies -- "work-slaves" raised up from their tombs by houngauns, the voodoo priests. Many Haitians live better dead than alive: Relatives often spend a year's income to erect huge, heavy tombstones over their loved ones' graves to prevent them from being dug up and turned into zombies.

But voodoo and its magic permeate life more often in light-hearted than in morbid ways, as in Africa, whence Haitian culture springs. Its earthy mysticism is as impenetrable to the outside world today as it was to the French colonials of Napoleon's time. Voodoo was the only thing that couldn't be beaten or stolen from the slaves over three centuries. Belief in it sustained its followers.



No such beliefs sustained Larimer Mellon, a sensitive misfit. One year in the Ivy League was enough. "I didn't know what I wanted," he said years later, "but I knew I wouldn't get it at Princeton."

Retreating back to Pittsburgh, he courted a girl named Grace Rowley, who "seemed very inappropriate to my family" -- not least because her father was an artificial-limb maker. Her relatives lived beneath the smoke of the steel mills. Her milieu was the diametric -- and romantic -- opposite of his own: "I used to help the old man make rubber feet down in the cellar. I could have seen myself doing that a lot sooner than working for Gulf."

In 1929, they slipped away to Wellsburg, W.Va., and got married, then lived together clandestinely in Pittsburgh for nearly a year before Larry persuaded his parents to approve their "engagement." There was (and still is) no bigger social news in Pittsburgh than a Mellon marriage: A grand "society wedding" was announced for November 1930 and much publicized in Pittsburgh's half-dozen daily papers. But 72 hours before the event, word of it reached a certain Wellsburg magistrate. "The man who married them saw the announcement," recalls Larry's sister Rachel, "and said, 'If you don't give me so much money, I'm going to tell the papers.' Blackmail from a justice of the peace!"

Big Pa was not intimidated, just furious -- at the son more than the blackmailer -- and abruptly canceled the wedding, uninvited all guests, including Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, who was en route.

It didn't bode well for the nonnewlyweds. The marriage continued but did not flourish, even after the birth of their son, Billy -- William Larimer Mellon III -- in 1932.

Larimer had reluctantly joined the family enterprises, first trying out the banking side and then apprenticing with his father at Gulf. [He] worked in the sales department for two gloomy years. "I'm anything but a salesman," he reflected. And Pittsburgh was anything but cheerful. A third of its children died before age 5, and the death rate of miners from tuberculosis and black lung was equally alarming.

An overpowering need to escape confinement -- of his job, his white collar, his marriage, Pittsburgh -- prompted Larimer to take his horse and himself to Arizona. Lots of American boys dreamed of becoming cowboys. But Larry was one of the few in a financial position to fulfill the fantasy -- loading up his horse, Goldy, into a trailer hitch and setting out for the Southwest to do things HIS way.

Big Pa had offered to send an agent ahead to buy cattle for him in Mexico, but Larry declined that assistance. He found a proper cattle ranch that suited him -- in Pecos County, Arizona -- on his own. There, the Mellon-heir loner now became a dawn-to-dusk working cowboy; he built fences, rode herd, did his own branding, learned to wield a blacksmith's hammer, and lived simply in what his horrified sister Peggy called a "one-peg shack." Soon, in partnership with his father, he bought another thousand head of cattle and a 110,000-acre ranch at Fort Rock. That venture turned a $25,000 profit by 1938, prompting Big Pa's facetious complaint about losing a tax deduction he'd counted on.

He supported Grace from afar. Eventually, she filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion. When Big Pa learned of it, he summoned Grace and gave her a check and a warning: "I don't want you ever to bother my son again." She never did.

In World War II, Larry Mellon signed up for duty with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, where his proficiency with languages in general -- Portuguese in particular -- was a valuable counter-intelligence tool possessed by few Americans then.

Upon discharge in 1945, Larry returned to Arizona. It was time to get back to ranch life -- and to the woman who would be his match in every way.



Gwendolyn Grant was a Shipley- and Smith-educated maverick not unlike Larimer Mellon. Her family divided its time between urban residence in New York City and idyllic summers upstate on the Hudson in Geneva. She grew into a fair, willowy, regal young woman, an excellent horsewoman, adventurous lover of the outdoors and -- by 1945, when at 37 she met Larry -- the mother of three young children, whom she supported by working on an Arizona dude ranch. But much life was lived (and tough wisdom gained) before the Eastern equestrienne became a western divorcee.

Gwen [divorced from her first husband, John Rawson] and Larry married on Feb. 2, 1946, in Wilton, Conn. Three days later, they left for Pittsburgh. Larry Mellon would visit Pittsburgh a total of three times the rest of his life. This was the first of those occasions, with the purpose of formally presenting his bride at Ben Elm, the family manse.

Pittsburgh, of course, was a hotbed of wealth. In addition to the Mellons, it was home to the Carnegie, Frick, Heinz, Thaw, Jones and Laughlin families, millionaire-industrialists who rivaled each other not just in business but in philanthropy.

William Mellon prided himself on keeping up with technology, and his favorite of many personal philanthropies was a "futuristic" project his Mellon Institute was then subsidizing for Carnegie Institute of Technology [now Carnegie Mellon University].

"Go over to Carnegie Tech," Big Pa told Larry and Gwen. "In the cellar, there's a wild Russian who's doing something very interesting -- something new that's going to be very valuable."

They went to inspect.

"Sure enough," says Gwen, "we found this tiny little blond man there -- hair flying out to his shoulders -- with the first-ever computer. It was so huge, it took up the whole cellar of the business school. We said, 'What can you do with it?' He said, 'Play tic-tac-toe.' And he did. The wheels turned. We didn't think too much about it at the time."

Back home in Arizona, their Fort Rock spread was soon turned into a fine profitable ranch, where it was not uncommon for Larry and his cowboys to brand 250 cattle in a day.

Ranch life was good, satisfying in an honest, elemental way. But not wholly fulfilling. Larimer Mellon himself didn't quite realize that until a magazine article changed the course of his and Gwen's life.



Long before the Peace Corps was a gleam in John F. Kennedy's eye, Larimer Mellon came across a Life magazine article of Oct. 6, 1947, titled, "The Greatest Man in the World." It was essentially just a photograph layout with brief text of about 750 words -- many of them erroneous -- to lionize "Albert Schweitzer, a 72-year-old medical missionary who lives among the wild cannibals at Lambarene, deep in the jungles of French Equatorial Africa." Dr. Schweitzer was disturbed by many things in Gabon, but cannibalism was not one of them. It was his insight into the way pain diminished humanity that struck Mellon to the core. He wrote to tell Schweitzer the Life piece had inspired him to establish a medical mission of his own, "perhaps in South America."

Gwen was in the act of hanging some new curtains when Larry informed her of a momentous new mission that would radically alter their lives: "He blurted it out -- 'I think I'll become a doctor and practice in the undeveloped world' -- and I said, 'So that's what's been on your mind lately. You're right, we don't want to sit around looking at the damn cows all our lives.' "

Gwen's unflappability never ceased to amaze and delight him. She would not only go along for this ride but serve as co-pilot and actively participate by studying medicine herself.

Schweitzer's response came in early 1948: "I was very much moved upon reading your letter and felt a certain responsibility towards you. ... Therefore, I consider you a dear brother, and I speak to you as such." A bond between two mavericks grew quickly. Mellon wasn't even a college graduate, much less a doctor. But he had made up his mind, even though, at 38, his handicap would be considerable, as Schweitzer warned him:

"Do not delude yourself about how difficult it will be. ... Your age imposes one of the first and most serious difficulties. I myself have had the experience that after a certain age one has more difficulty in assimilating new knowledge than in youth. ... You will notice it even more than I, since you are studying at a more advanced age. On the other hand, you have the great advantage over me to be able to concentrate entirely on your studies. I had to earn a living on the side...

Mellon applied and was accepted at Tulane University. Soon, he was in New Orleans, happily enjoying "my first classes for 20 years" -- having left Gwen behind with the little task of closing down their ranch.

Many paradoxical juxtapositions distinguished Larry Mellon from the average undergraduate: On Sept. 16, he stood in line with everyone else to enroll in courses for the 1948-49 Tulane school year. The next day, he was summoned to Pittsburgh as a voting member of the W.L. & May T. Mellon Foundation to approve his family's gift of $6 million to create the nation's first Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Institute of Technology. The business meeting was conducted swiftly, the gigantic gift approved, and red-eyed Larry whisked back to the airport for New Orleans at 7 the next morning.

The Mellons were way ahead of their time. In February 1950, Larry was exploring "ways we could help financially in African-American relations. Gwen and I decide to help with program to educate American Negroes about Africa and make them proud of their origins." Afro-American studies departments are now de rigueur at virtually every university, but the idea was radically new then. They wanted to establish such a program at Tulane, but it was dismissed. Segregation in New Orleans was a deeply entrenched way of life. No black person had yet been admitted to Tulane.

Charity Hospital, where Gwen first served as a nurse's aide, was a racial mirror of the time: one side white patients, the other side black. Black nurses and aides were permitted to work on the white side, but no whites on the black side.

But where would they build their hospital?

A series of visits to South America and the Caribbean included Haiti, where they discovered a unique culture. The charm and beauty of the people stunned them as much as the poverty and disease -- chains stronger than slavery's in a country with the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality in the hemisphere. The once-fertile island paradise with its fabulous mahogany forests was now deforested and eroded. Gone were the rich logwood, sugar, indigo, cocoa, coffee and cotton industries. Malnutrition was as chronic as overpopulation: Two thousand people inhabited every square mile of tillable soil.

In Port-au-Prince, they met President Paul Magloire and Dr. Francois Duvalier, director of the Ministry of Health's landmark and highly successful pian program. "Pian is the word for yaws," explains Gwen. "Everybody got a massive shot of penicillin and, almost overnight, there was no more yaws. It cleared up syphilis at the same time. It made Dr. Duvalier very popular and was a good basis for his political support later on. In those days, he was very accessible, and we got to know him pretty well. He was absolutely the blackest man I ever saw -- so black he was almost blue. He had a weak-fish handshake, very friendly -- nothing terribly interesting about him."

Later, they would travel 90 rugged miles northwest of Port-au-Prince to the middle of Haiti for a look at the Artibonite Valley and some abandoned Standard Fruit Co. buildings in a village called Deschapelles.

A healthy ratio of doctors to population is 1-to-2,000. In the Artibonite -- Haiti's rural mid-section, a 600-square-mile area with 185,000 people -- there was not a single doctor in private practice and only two small government clinics.

A momentous decision had been made on the Mellons' part: The need was in Haiti. But a huge number of legal, financial and logistical details had to be worked out, not least of which was the government's formal approval. It would take months to sort out, and much of the leg work was left to his wife. Gwen and her sister Kathleen were dispatched to New York to gather information on hospital construction costs. Larry informed Dr. Schweitzer:

"My wife and I have decided that the name for this hospital should be 'The Hopital Albert Schweitzer,' if you have no objections. This decision stems from the fact that the idea of devoting ourselves to the dark-skinned race was not our own but has its origins in your work in Gabon."



Schweitzer received a Nobel Peace Prize that fall. William Larimer Mellon Jr. -- despite lofty correspondence with the Nobel laureate and President of Haiti -- was a lowly intern on call at a poor folks' hospital in New Orleans. Gwen's 1953 Christmas diary entry summed up their paradoxical life: "Opened presents at 5:30 before Larry leaves for ambulance duty in the a.m."

The Haitian government was to grant the rent-free site and 15 residential out-buildings on Standard Fruit's former banana plantation at Deschapelles, plus water rights, tax exemptions for equipment and supplies, and a 100-acre farm. But the agreement drafted by a Haitian lawyer contained a 25-year limitation. When Larry discovered that, he dispatched Gwen to Haiti to change it. Indeed, most of the delicate political legwork fell to her.

Larry came to Haiti only once or twice over the next 12 months. Gwen would almost singlehandedly supervise construction of the hospital. Its cost was $2 million plus $1.5 million more for staff housing, surgical and lab equipment, pharmacy stock, etc. Larry wrote Schweitzer: "It is my luck that my forebears earned some money, otherwise I would be on my way to jail!"

Hopital Albert Schweitzer opened on June 26, 1956, Mellon's 46th birthday, two years to the day after ground-breaking. The real test would be their first out-patient clinic day. The Mellons held their breath: Would anyone come?

They came in droves on that and every clinic day thereafter, two-thirds of them women and children. The average Haitian mother has 12 pregnancies and six surviving children, many afflicted in those days with the same terrible problem: tetanus. Larry Mellon and his team would soon tackle that head-on.

Hopital Albert Schweitzer was and is the only hospital in Haiti to provide its patients with meals. Elsewhere, it is up to the relatives of the sick to bring in food. The hospital's 116 beds would soon be holding some 2,500 in-patients a year. Many of those, and almost half of the hundreds of patients seen on clinic days, are children acutely ill with malnutrition and related diarrhea.

Food -- and the terrible lack of it -- were at the root of the Haitians' poor health. Most common of many forms of malnutrition and starvation are kwashiorkor, caused by lack of protein, and marasmus -- from across-the-board caloric deprivation. The conditions are treatable by nourishment and oral serum in the early stages, but mental and developmental damage can be lasting. And even when treated successfully, Haitian children usually return to the same circumstances and vicious circle that produced the problem: Not enough food at home due to not enough income to buy it or farmland to produce it.



The biggest problem in Haiti's Artibonite Valley was tetanus -- No. 1 killer of Haitian newborns, due largely to the custom of rubbing mud, dung or charcoal on freshly cut umbilical cords. The conventional wisdom among epidemiologists in those days was that tetanus immunization be provided only to mothers who came for prenatal care. The medical world now knows better, thanks to the Mellons, who were determined to immunize every woman -- not just pregnant women -- in the Artibonite Valley against tetanus. But any such incredibly ambitious outreach program would require great internal planning first. It was decided that the hospital should have a public health department.

The dynamic, unprecedented effort was initiated and held together for years by a remarkable husband and wife team -- Warren Berggren, who with his wife, Dr. Gretchen Berggren, headed the HAS public health program in the late '60s and early '70s.

The task of immunizing everyone was staggering, and the only way to accomplish it was to meet the women on their own turf -- at dawn in the marketplaces. Nowadays, the process is still referred to as "marketplace immunization" and is recommended by the World Health Organization. HAS' methods in the tetanus campaign had applications far beyond tetanus. Equally important was the education of midwives -- begun by Larry Mellon and Dr. Lucien Rousseau. It was the first traditional midwife-training program in the western hemisphere, teaching proper delivery techniques, cord-cutting and avoidance of contamination.

Soon enough, the tetanus rate fell nearly to zero in the 23 villages nearest the hospital -- one of the great miracles of HAS, whose mobile immunization teams would inoculate some 114,000 child-bearing women and newborns a year. The Berggrens would have the satisfaction of seeing neonatal tetanus virtually eradicated in the area they served.

Contrary to the assumption of many, that old Haitian custom of rubbing dung or other tainted substances on umbilical cords was, in fact, a folk remedy and not a voodoo superstition. But certain voodoo rituals did and do have a relation to medical problems in Haiti, particularly those involving the passing of children over fire. "We take care of the burns," says Gwen, "but we don't tell people not to do things. It's a religion of Haiti, and we're not going to tell them not to do it."

HAS Dr. Marcella Caldi-Scalcini: "One doctor said, 'We are here to fight voodoo.' I said, No, to fight malnutrition and illiteracy. Voodoo is not our enemy. Our enemy is poor health and poor education."

Only Americans put stock in the term "witch doctor." In Haiti, the meshing of voodoo with Catholicism is paralleled by the meshing of voodoo and medicine, and there is less conflict than cooperation between the two. Voodoo priest-healers come in two forms -- bocors, who deal mostly in salves and mixtures, and houngans, whose practice is similar but more mystical.

Once when Larry was walking past the house of a bocor in his neighborhood, the man called to him and said, "Have you noticed that when people arrive in Deschapelles, they stop at my place first before they go to your hospital? Well, you should know that they come to my place first, and that's why they don't have any money when they get to your place -- I get it all."

Larry was always respectful toward that canny group of professionals he called "leaf" -- not "witch" -- doctors:

"These leaf doctors have borne most of the burden of country medicine since French colonial days. [They] know how to treat malaria and average cuts and pains. I've seen a broken leg perfectly set by a bocor. And they understand the psychiatric problems here better than we do."



Larry Mellon, no less than the bocors, was also a wise man who understood his people. In Haiti, one of his earliest and most profound insights was that medicine alone could make only a dent in the underlying Haitian dilemma: to cure and then return people to the same environment that produced the disease did not much help them in the long run.

Accordingly, Dr. Mellon only "doctored" full time for about three years in Haiti, after which point he turned the bulk of his attention to creating an array of ambitious service projects -- gargantuan in scope. Thenceforth, if you wanted to find Larry Mellon, you went outdoors, and often a long way. By 1959, the HAS Community Development program had begun feverish activity. On the campus and at the HAS outreach centers, literacy, health, sewing, carpentry, homemaking and child care were taught.

Dozens of sanitation projects were initiated. Old wells were collared and new ones dug for the clean cooking and bathing water that had not been obtainable for generations. Latrines were built -- Dr. Mellon always among the laborers -- along with new dams and irrigation canals. Crops would flourish in places where they had never succeeded before. The quantity of water projects he initiated and brought to fruition for the Artibonite Valley was immense. Always, he worked with and ate the same food as the workers and stayed until the job was finished.



Once, in a thank-you note to a contributor, Larry wrote: "This work which Gwen and I do here never fails to amaze us! Today is so much like yesterday that I'd have to think a long time before being able to distinguish the difference. We get up before sunrise, eat the same breakfast from the same table while watching the Artibonite Valley come to life. The morning scene at all seasons year in and year out is practically identical. The slanting rays of sunlight on the rice paddies, which are thickly dotted with large green trees -- mango, mapoo, royal palm -- remind me daily of an illustration in the front of my grandmother's Bible, titled 'The Garden of Eden.' "

But surely he needed a vacation now and then.

"Why would I want a vacation from Paradise?" was his reply.

Despite -- or because of -- the crushing weight of its needs and demands, HAS manifests another phenomenon that doesn't exist in many other medical communities in the world. Bill Dunn has observed that something about Haiti in general and Deschapelles in particular tends to simplify people once they get there:

"There is virtually no lag time here. You can make a decision at noon and implement it by 4 in the afternoon, as opposed to the United States, with its planning agencies and state health departments, where it takes months and months for approval to get things going. It was a professional rebirth for me here because of the freedom, the ability to create change. It's an extremely refreshing thing."

Said 92-year-old Acelom Congo, who, as a foreman, helped build the Tapion Dam with the Mellons 30 years ago:

"They are blancs who participate in the life of Haitians. They are a gift. I never knew whites would come and work with Haitians. When Mrs. Mellon comes to visit, her presence makes me want to dance. (He does a little dance around his courtyard to demonstrate.) We are all her children. On the Tapion, Dr. Mellon worked physically. Others would be lazy, but he showed by his example. He carried water pipes on his own shoulders. He was like a little piece of God."

Albert Schweitzer wrote that anyone contemplating a course of action similar to his own should have no thought of heroism, only of a spiritual adventure: "There are no heroes of action, only heroes of renunciation and suffering. There is no reward for the work except the privilege of doing it."



Dr. William Larimer Mellon's 35-year labors in Haiti ended on Thursday, Aug. 3, 1989, at 6:18 p.m., when he lost his long battle against Parkinson's and cancer at the age of 79. Death came peacefully at home, with Gwen by his side -- his bedroom doors open as usual to the view of the Artibonite Valley.

Gwen Grant Mellon eulogized her husband's spirit as "like a crystal with many facets, found on the handle of a door, on the end of a stethoscope, on the edge of a scalpel, under the saddle of a horse. It is a letter of love written by illiterates on the rocks, the hills, and within the homes of thousands in Haiti. Having seen it is a legacy to teach by. It cannot be stifled. It is a real and living thing."


Contributions to the Hopital Albert Schweitzer of Deschapelles, Haiti, are tax-deductible and may be made in care of the Grant Foundation, Three Mellon Bank Center, 525 William Penn Place, Suite 3901, Pittsburgh, PA 15219-1709.



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