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6111: Re: Mrs. Mellon Obit (fwd)
From: Bill Bollendorf <email@example.com>
Here is Mrs. Mellon's Obituary as published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Obituary: Gwen Grant Mellon / Co-founded Albert Schweitzer Hospital in
Friday, December 01, 2000
By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Gwen Grant Mellon was the dynamic woman behind the reluctant heir, 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
Song of Haiti: The Lives of Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon
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 - appeared in the Sunday Magazine
Mrs. Mellon, widow of Dr. William Larimer Mellon Jr., died Wednesday in
Miami at 89 of complications following hip surgery. She remained the
hospital's active leader and most elegant, eloquent spokesperson to the end.
Fair, willowy and regal, Gwen Grant was born into a genteel New York family
that divided its time between Manhattan and idyllic summers upstate on the
Hudson in Geneva. She was educated at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pa.,
and graduated from Smith College in 1934 -- an excellent equestrienne,
adventurous lover of the outdoors and independent-minded maverick, not
unlike Larimer Mellon.
Mellon, for his part, had reluctantly joined the family banking and Gulf Oil
concerns, working in the sales department for two gloomy years. To escape
the confinement of his white-collar job, his first marriage and Pittsburgh,
he took off and bought a ranch in Pecos County, Ariz., becoming a
dawn-to-dusk working cowboy, building fences, riding herd and doing his own
Gwen Grant had her own confinement and first marriage to escape. When John
Rawson, by whom she had three children, informed her he was leaving them
behind to take a European job, she replied that she'd be leaving, too.
"I told him, 'I'm going to make myself a new life -- I'm leaving,'" she
recalled. "He said, 'You wouldn't dare.' I said, 'Yes, I would dare.' I
don't know how I had the nerve, with three kids and no job. But I went out
She was a 37-year-old divorcee, supporting herself and three youngsters by
working on an Arizona dude ranch, when she and Mellon met in 1945. They fell
in love and were married on Feb. 2, 1946, in Wilton, Conn., then returned
west and settled into a comfortable ranch life, where it was not uncommon
for Mellon and his boys to brand 250 cattle in a day -- a good life, but not
Mellon himself didn't quite realize that until he read a 1947 Life magazine
article on Albert Schweitzer's hospital in Gabon.
Mrs. Mellon was in the act of hanging some new curtains when her new husband
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
Both enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans. During Mrs. Mellon's
medical studies, she dissected mosquitoes for an experimental syphilis
treatment program and was trained in malaria control and tropical entomology
at Charity Hospital, which was then trying out induced malaria therapy to
treat mental illness resulting from syphilis.
Together, they decided 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
Armed with Dr. Mellon's instructions, 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 almost single-handedly
supervised construction of l'Hopital Albert Schweitzer, which opened June
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 cost of being seen in the clinic -- including examination, lab work,
medication and food -- was two gourdes (about 40 cents). It was hard for
many to pay. Often a bag of rice or fruit was accepted instead of money. But
payment was required on the theory that anything free is not highly valued
-- in Haiti or anywhere else.
Mrs. Mellon subsequently 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.
Shortly before he died in 1989, Mellon named her as his successor as
president of the Grant Foundation and effective head of l'Hopital
In a country with such terrible overpopulation, disease and high infant
mortality rate -- 50 percent -- she was once asked, did she ever get
"Neither of us ever was," Mrs. Mellon replied. "We had many disappointments,
but we always could think of something else to be done and we did it and it
made a difference. We were more fortunate than a poor person sitting in his
house with no food. There's not much he can do. For us, it was different. We
could try another program, ask someone else for help -- do something."
Every Sunday she would visit and chat with every patient in the hospital,
including those who lined the hallways in benches or cots or gurneys.
It meant an enormous amount to the Haitians.
Mrs. Mellon's wry, piquant autobiography "My Road to Deschapelles" was
published in 1997.
Ian Rawson, a son of Mrs. Mellon by her first husband, was just 10 when he
learned of his mother's intention to start the hospital with his stepfather.
"We had to learn, as children, that we had to share them as parents with
other people -- people who relied on them for strength and inspiration,"
Rawson, of Squirrel Hill, said yesterday. "We learned to see [our mother] as
something other than a mother, but as a role model as well."
Rawson said family members have been in touch with the hospital since Mrs.
Mellon's death. He said there is "a great sense of loss" there.
Rawson said his mother will be buried next to Dr. Mellon near the hospital,
on a hillside overlooking a valley. She will be buried in a simple cardboard
box, as was her husband a decade ago.
"His point was that it was the way the very poorest of the poor were
buried," Rawson said.
Mrs. Mellon also is survived by son Michael Rawson of Tenafly, N.J.;
daughter Jenifer Rawson Grant of Essex, Conn.; 12 grandchildren and seven
Private burial will take place in Deschapelles, Haiti, tomorrow.
Memorial contributions may be sent to l'Hopital Albert Schweitzer, in care
of The Grant Foundation, 1410 Magellan Drive, Suite 101, Sarasota, Fla.,
Staff writer Caroline Abels contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 PG Publishing. All rights reserved.