The Medical Mission
Gwendolyn Grant Mellon

Gwendolyn Grant MellonGwen Grant Mellon was the dynamic woman behind William Larimer Mellon, his equal partner in their prosperous Arizona cattle ranch and in their amazingly sudden decision to quit it and devote the rest of their lives and fortune to the people of rural Haiti, co-founding the world-renowned Albert Schweitzer Hospital there.

In 1947, after reading a Life magazine article on Albert Schweitzer's hospital in Gabon, Mellon realized that he wished to become a doctor and practice in the undeveloped world. The two enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans and afterward chose to build their hospital in the rural midsection of Haiti, 90 rugged miles northwest of Port-au-Prince in an Artibonite Valley village called Deschapelles.

A healthy ratio of doctors to population is 1 to 2,000. In the Artibonite -- a 600-square-mile area with 185,000 people -- there was not a single doctor in private practice.

Legal, financial and logistical details had to be worked out, and the legwork was left to Mrs. Mellon. The Haitian government was to grant the rent-free site and 15 residential outbuildings 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 the Haitians contained a 25-year limitation. Mellon dispatched his wife to Haiti to change it.

Many wives of that day might have been daunted by the prospect of negotiating with the head of a foreign country, but Mrs. Mellon was not among them. She went to Port-au-Prince to tell President Paul Magloire the 25-year restriction had to go -- and came away with the crucial concessions they needed.

While her husband finished med school, Mrs. Mellon single-handedly supervised construction of l'Hopital Albert Schweitzer, which opened June 26, 1956.

Certain roles as "enforcer" fell to Mrs. Mellon. Then and now, many called it "l'Hopital de Mme. Mellon" (Madame Mellon's hospital) because it was she who sat out front every day, recording the patients' names and collecting the fees.

Mrs. Mellon helped initiate a vast array of HAS Community Development programs on the hospital campus and at the HAS outreach centers, where literacy, health, sewing, carpentry, homemaking and child care were taught. She was intimately involved in the dozens of sanitation and water projects her husband brought to fruition for the Artibonite Valley over the next 30 years.

Education: Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts -1934

Publications: "My Road to Deschapelles" autobiography - 1997

Awards: Shortly before he died, William Mellon named his wife as his successor as president of the Mellon Grant Foundation and effective head of l'Hopital Schweitzer.

Excerpts taken from “Gwen Grant Mellon Obituary/Co-founded Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti” By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

http://www.post-gazette.com/obituaries/20001201mellon3.asp