03 August 2018
Larry grew up in a very wealthy home, the youngest of four children, but struggled with the resultant affluence and class status. His mum helped keep his feet on the ground and gave him a Christian upbringing based on her humble Scottish Presbyterian heritage. He married young and secretly. When his father found out, he reacted by calling off the official wedding with important guests like Larry’s uncle, the Secretary of the United States coming, only two days before the wedding.
His wife got caught up in the snob value of being rich and eventually they divorced as Larry was content to be without those society trappings. After moving out to start his own ranch in Arizona with his horses, Larry established himself as simply another ranch owner. He began to date a divorced riding instructor with three children, however, the dating was interrupted by several years serving his country in WWII. It was only after they were engaged she found out his family owned the Mellon National Bank in New York and the Gulf Oil Company. He had never talked about his family wealth. In 1947 Larry was reading Life Magazine and saw a picture of Albert Schweitzer. He wanted the peace and serenity he saw on Albert’s face. After corresponding with Dr Schweitzer in Africa, Larry Mellon decided he too wanted to serve God and help others.
At the age of 37 the family packed up and he spent the next 8 years in New Orleans while he completed his medical degree, and his wife Gwen completed her lab technology and scrub nurse certificates. Then they moved to the “neediest part of the world they could find”.
Larry and Gwen spent the rest of their lives building and staffing a hospital in Central Haiti. They opened their hospital in 1956 and spent the their remaining years serving an area with well over 185,000 people who had no medical facilities prior to this. Larry’s family had a six billion dollar fortune; he used his share to help others, pioneering the market place vaccination program which saw thousands of Haitians vaccinated and living longer.
Larry died at 79 and Gwen at 89. Both were buried in cardboard boxes – the typical poor Haitian method – next to their hospital in Haiti. One of the Haitian foreman on a project stated, “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.”
Gwen Grant Mellon eulogized her husband’s contribution 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.” The legacy of Albert Schweitzer, that we looked at last newsletter, impacted on the life of Larry Mellon and provided an amazing life of service in Haiti. I wonder what legacy we may be leaving for others to think about? How others-centred are we? When people see our face, does it inspire them to be better people?
Dr David McClintock