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6162: Mellon obituary
Gwen Grant Mellon - Obituary
Gwen Grant Mellon, who, with her late husband Dr. William Larimer Mellon,
Jr., founded Hpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti, died
Wednesday, November 29 at the age of 89. The cause of death was
complications following hip surgery.
Mrs. Mellon was born in Englewood, N.J. in 1911. She grew up in Geneva,
N.Y., graduated from Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and from
Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts, in 1934.
An early marriage to John Rawson produced three children; Michael,
Jenifer, and Ian, all of whom accompanied her to Arizona in 1942, where
she moved to establish residency for a divorce. An expert horsewoman, she
served as a riding instructor on a dude ranch where she met a neighbor who
would turn out to be her future husband, one of the heirs to the Mellon
fortune, William Larimer Mellon, Jr. The couple married in 1945, when he
returned from wartime service with the OSS.
In 1947, inspired by a LIFE magazine article about Dr. Schweitzer and his
medical mission in Lambarn, Gabon, West Africa, and advised by Dr.
Schweitzer himself, the couple moved to New Orleans where Larry Mellon, at
the age of 39, applied for admission to Tulane Medical School. The initial
response was that he was too old, but Mrs. Mellon recalled: "We went in
person to see the dean, Max Lapham, and said we both wanted to go to
medical school. Larry left the room at one point and Max said, 'You maybe
- but Larry?' I just said, if you don't see your way clear to take him,
you'll be making a big mistake.'" Two weeks later his letter of acceptance
As Larry Mellon entered Tulane, Gwen Mellon enrolled at the Tulane School
of Tropical Medicine, working in its induced malaria therapy project. When
the project ended, she worked in the tumor center at the Veterans'
Hospital and became a nurse's aide in the operating theaters of Charity
During school vacations, the couple traveled, searching for the right
location to establish a hospital. Haiti's agricultural Artibonite Valley
presented a fortuitous challenge, and they chose the village of
Deschapelles to be the home of the hospital that would be named in honor
of their mentor.
While Mellon was completing his medical studies, Gwen Mellon went to New
York to gather information on hospital construction. Next, she returned to
Haiti to recruit Haitian nursing students for training in the United
States. They would later serve at the hospital.
In Pennsylvania, a non-profit corporation which would fund the hospital
was established. In Gwen's honor, it would bear her maiden name and be
called The Grant Foundation.
Larry mellon received his medical degree in 1953, and while he prepared
for his Louisiana state board exams and his residency, Gwen remained in
Deschapelles and oversaw the planning and construction of the hospital.
After negotiations with and approvals by the Haitian government, the
hospital officially opened in June 1956, with Schwietzer's credo,
"Reverence for LIfe" carved over the door.
Gwen once said she used to have nightmares that the modern 100-bed
hospital would open its doors and no one would come, but the clinics were
soon receiving well over 1,000 people each week. Speaking lyrical Kreyl,
she greeted, screened and admitted patients at the Front Desk where she
filled out cards and wrote names on dossiers. Today Hpital Albert
Schweitzer has amassed more than 400,000 dossiers of medical recors -
which have been transferred to modern computerized systems by students
taught to do this by the institution.
Mrs. Mellon also spent long hours translating for the medical specialists
that continually visited the hospital.
In addition to her hospital administration duties, Gwen Mellon was active
in the community life of the Deschapelles village as well as the entire
610 square mile Artibonite Valley. She started children's school programs,
and encouraged and sudsidized local artists and artisans - many of whose
paintings, sculptures, carvings and ironworks can be found in galleries
around the world. She established ceramic and carpentry shops, plus a
weaving center which produced works to be sold for the benefit of the
Every Christmas Mrs. Mellon served a festive lunch on the lawn of her
house to the more than 500 employees of the hospital, giving each one a
Christmas gift, usually something practical like a flashlight or an
umbrella. Each and every Sunday, she would visit and chat with every
patient in the hospital - including those who lined the hallways on
benches or cots or gurneys.
In the hospital's early days the greatest challenges were tetanus,
tuberculosis, typhoid and malnutrition. Through immunization programs,
tetanus has been eradicated. By bringing potable water into Valley
neighborhoods, typhoid has been brought under control. TB and malnutrition
continue to be enormous problems, and AIDS has escalated to crisis
After Dr. Mellon died in 1989, Mrs. Mellon became president of The Grant
Foundation and assumed the role of functioning head of the hospital.She
continued her administrative duties and her involvement in the day-to-day
life of the Artibonite Valley until her death.
Gwen Grant Mellon's autobiography, My Road to Deschapelles was published
Mrs. Mellon is survived by three children - Michael Rawson of Tenafly, New
Jersey, Jenifer Rawson Grant of Essex. Connecticut, Ian Rawson of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, twelve grandchildren and seven