A Life Serving the Poor in Haiti

  • Overseas
  • 1956

W. L. Mellon, grandnephew of business titan Andrew Mellon, grew up in privileged circumstances in Pittsburgh, dropped out of college to work in the family bank, and endured an unsuccessful society marriage. Adrift and seeking a more meaningful life, he read reports on the devoted missionary work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa. He wrote asking how he might do something similarly useful, and received a long handwritten letter back from Schweitzer encouraging him to take up medical mission work.

“Larry” Mellon promptly uprooted himself and went back to college to complete first an undergraduate degree and then an M.D. at Tulane University. Upon receiving his medical degree in 1954 at age 44 he set off for Haiti. Two years later he opened a brand new hospital there, named for his idol Albert Schweitzer, which he equipped to the level of an American counterpart using family money. Dr. Mellon practiced medicine and also became active in community development—building roads, water supply, and attending to other desperate needs in the rural Artibonite Valley where he now lived with 150,000 Haitians.

With continuing support from American philanthropists including the Mellon family, the Gates Foundation, and others, the Albert Schweitzer Hospital still provides lifesaving services in the most unhealthy and impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. It is the only hospital serving a current population of 350,000. From the beginning, the Mellons invested in medical training for Haitians so that local people could assume positions at the hospital, and today 98 percent of its employees are Haitians. Due to the nation’s gross misgovernance, the hospital must provide its own infrastructure—producing all of its electricity, water, and transport linkages itself.