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Song of Haiti Hardcover – May 30, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
No one ever expected the youngest son of financier William Mellon to establish and manage a hospital in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. But that is exactly what William Larimer (Larry) Mellon Jr. did during the last 35 years of his life (he attended medical school in his 40s). In this double biography, ParisAwho himself makes a surprising turn from Hollywood biography (Audrey Hepburn, Garbo, etc.)A beautifully, if somewhat uncritically tells the story of Larry, his second wife, Gwen, and their hospital in Haiti. Taking a page from the Mellons' lifelong passion for music, Paris organizes the entire book, from its "Overture" to its "Finale," around a musical theme. Drawing on extensive interviews with GwenAwho, now in her 80s, has been running the hospital since her husband's death in 1989Aas well as on Larry's private journals and his correspondence with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Paris crafts a moving and largely sympathetic portrait. He also traces the history of the vast array of community development projects the Mellons initiated, arguing that the couple dedicated their uncommon lives and fortune to Schweitzer's motto "Help life where you find it." Along the way he provides plenty of relevant photos and helpful background: a history of Haiti, the story of the Mellon dynasty and an assessment of voodooAhe calls it "a largely positive force with no particular agenda and without the proselytizing (or televangelical abuses) of Christianity." Inspirational and dramatic, this book fills in a long-forgotten gap in the history of both American philanthropy and compassionate humanity. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
As in his other acclaimed biographies (Garbo, Audrey Hepburn), Paris captures the passion of lives well lived. In what is essentially a love story about Larimer and Gwen Mellon, he tells of the couple's transition from the world of high finance (Larimer was the youngest son of banker William Mellon) to service as healthcare providers in one of the "neediest spots" in the world. Inspired by the medical missionary work of Albert Schweitzer in Africa, the Mellons made a mid-life decision to devote their energies to building a hospital and serving the poor in Haiti's Artibonite Valley. Larry, who graduated from medical school in his mid-forties and served in Haiti until his death, is presented as a reflective renegade; Gwen, now in her eighties and still working in Haiti, is seen as a feisty Mother Teresa. After three years of researching private journals and unpublished correspondence and conducting extensive interviews, Paris has written a definitive exploration of the Mellons' impact not only on the episodic healthcare of Haiti but on tropical medicine research and public sanitation reforms. This is not just a biography but a gem of medical anthropological literature. Recommended for all collections in public and academic libraries alike.DRebecca Cress-Ingebo, Fordham Health Sciences Lib., Wright State Univ., Dayton
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
It tells how he rebuilt his life to give service by becoming a medical doctor and following the example of Albert Schweitzer, he found a people he could love without judgment in the Arbonite River Valley of Haiti.
The book shows what it took to build the facility and with what dedication he led his life with these people. He succeeded despite the many opportunities to fail by sharing his dream with his wife and his family. While he and Gwen are now gone to their reward, they are still there through their hospital, now staffed by locals and the family.
I loved the story, but I also loved the explanation of the people of that valley. It is easier to understand the fierce independence of the human spirit that exists in these people despite unbelievable hardships and repression by cruel overlords. In fact I guess the message is that the human spirit favors independence and self determination whether born to riches or in oppressing poverty.
It isn't money that makes the difference in us, not that life is easy without it, it is progress and self determination to choose wisdom and goodness.
I know three young men who are from DesChapelles. I see in their lives the fruit of Dr. Mellon's self appointed mission. While he can't take credit for their character, he probably can their career choice and their belief they can choose wisely. We should all be so good. What is precious is difficult to find if we fail to look where Dr. Mellon did. It is there in most all of us, but too few of us expend the effort to mine the depths of our souls for the precious gems that are there to find.
My book was in great shape. It is easy to read. There is no reason for us to sink in despair at the present state of our world. There is is every reason to work to improve it where we see it is needed.
By the way, the delivery was very fast. Thank you, Amazon.
An important finding is that the Mellon's hospital was founded on the humanitarian premise, "Reverence for life." Taken from Dr. Sweitzer's work in Africa, life refers not only to human life, but also plant and animal. This little detail is critical to understanding the book. Many missions to Haiti are Christian, while Dr. Mellon's hospital is distinctly humanistic primarily as presented in the book.
As all books on Haiti fairly present, doing anything in Haiti is hard, and without American financial support, very little work done lasts. The hospital Dr. Mellon founded did well as long as he provided two of the four million dollars needed to run it. His civil engineering projects, in which he was much more interested than medicine (he actually only practiced medicine 3 years), all crumbled when turned over to the Haitians. Many other cottage industries met the same fate.
The book thus captures the Haitian dilemna, how to serve in Haiti and lift up the Haitians to be self sufficient. If Dr. Mellon's millions couldn't do it, how can any of us with less money at our disposal. Never the less, we go to Haiti because we cannot not go, nor can we not go back after going once.
An excellent book about how a real rich guy did his best to follow his heart, not his accountant's advice, and another book about how a strong wife really does the grunt work while her husband plays with big boy's toys.