Women of Substance & Style: Louise Stephaich

“I had the great good fortune to have an uncle/godfather Larimer Mellon who, after reading about the work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa on the cover of a 1965 issue of Life magazine, decided to give up ranching and become a doctor in order to follow in the path of Dr. Albert Schweitzer in our hemisphere,” tells Louise Stephaich. “He had his wonderful supportive, wife Gwen Grant Mellon, and they made the decision to first finish his undergraduate studies then become a doctor.” While on break from his studies, the family toured with their children through South, Central, and North America looking for a place to build their hospital. They found Haiti had the greatest need and decided that was the perfect location. The Hospital Albert Schweitzer (H.A.S.) opened its doors in June 1956. “I spoke with the German/French TV channel called Arte who were interested in doing a segment on my uncle. They told me that after they did a great deal of research, they discovered that at that time Dr. Mellon was the only wealthy person in history that completely funded, lived, and worked at the hospital they created. After my uncle died, Aunt Gwen would come to visit my mother in Palm Beach. She had written a book on a yellow legal pad called My Road to Deschapelles, which was published in 1997.” Someone suggested that she arrange a book signing in the local book shop in Palm Beach. It was a huge success, with people lining up to get their signed copy. “Maybe the seed was planted in me then but after the death of my aunt in 2000 I was asked to join the board of H.A.S. I was flabbergasted not being a doctor, nurse, social worker or anything professional.” The members of the board, however, did not have the necessary connections to funding, “and that is where I could help.” She also wanted the world to know the unique story of a self-funded hospital in the poorest country in our hemisphere. “I shared the wonderful story of my uncle and aunt with Brooke Astor. Shortly thereafter my Aunt received the Women & Science award from the Rockefeller University which opened up the doors to funding from new donors and foundations. I have organized an annual benefit for several years that has grown to be one of the successful benefits of the Palm Beach season. It gives me great pride that the Hospital Albert Schweitzer (H.A.S.) has remained open for 64 years despite challenges, including revolutions, embargoes, floods, hurricanes, the earthquake of 2010, cholera epidemic and now coronavirus.”

Louise Stephaich