Some love stories last a lifetime—and span generations. Soon after HAS co-founder Larry Mellon died in 1989, his wife, Gwen, reflected that Larry’s spirit was “a letter of love” written across the landscape of Haiti, a love letter that would continue in the lives of thousands of patients and their families. To the founders of HAS—from the time of the hospital’s founding in 1956 until the end of their lives—love was found in action, service, and the quiet but firm belief that all people are worthy of dignity, respect, and care.
At HAS, we are grateful for the countless individuals who have given months or years of their lives in service to the hospital and surrounding communities. HAS would not exist as the beacon of hope and compassion that it is today without the contributions of so many clinicians and volunteers over the past 60 years. Living and working at HAS—which tirelessly serves patients who are among the sickest and most vulnerable in the world—is truly an act of love.
Gene McGovern, who passed away peacefully on Jan. 9, 2016, at the age of 91, dedicated years of her life to HAS. In the early years of the hospital, Gene and her husband, the late Dr. Robert McGovern—along with his colleague, the late Dr. Florence (Skeets) Marshall—came up with an unusual plan that would put their ideals of service and compassion into action. The group decided that the doctors would maintain academic ties to New York City, practice pediatrics on Long Island, New York, and undertake more unusual, challenging pediatrics in a challenged part of the world—all at the same time. Gene and Bob’s daughter, Karen McGovern Schneebaum recalls, “A colleague told them about HAS, and the rest was history!”
In this unusual arrangement, one pediatrician would spend a year practicing medicine in Haiti, while the other would maintain the office in the States. This partnership provided HAS with a pediatrician on a rotating basis from the late 1950’s into the 1980’s. Later additions to the group included Dr. Phillip Eskes with his wife, Audrey, followed by Dr. Duane Dowell and his wife, Vera. (Duane would later go on to become a Medical Director of HAS; Vera has been active for years as a leader of the HAS Alumni Association.)
“It was a unique arrangement, nationally recognized at the time,” recalls HAS emeritus Board member Dr. Renée Bergner. “Moreover, this group was the backbone of HAS pediatrics for many years, set the high standards for the department, and trained many younger pediatricians, both Haitian and foreign.”
The strong support and involvement of Gene and the other spouses were indispensable to the success of this innovative partnership, which was integral to establishing the Department of Pediatrics at HAS and helped save the lives of countless babies and children over the years. In the beginning, Gene home-schooled the McGoverns’ young children during the years they spent in Deschapelles—“causing her to joke that she had attended fourth grade four times,” according to daughters Karen and Susan. Later, in 1978, Gene became one of the first pediatric nurse practitioners in the United States. Karen remembers, “She was delighted to employ those skills at HAS when they rotated there. To their mutual delight, Mrs. Mellon became her interpreter in the clinic.” Board member Jenny Grant, Gwen Mellon’s daughter, recalls of her mother’s special friendship with Gene: “Genie was always optimistic, always kind, and had a lovely sense of humor. She and Mom bonded over the daily joys and challenges of working in Deschapelles.” In later years, when Gwen made short trips to the U.S. to visit family, Genie was included in those visits. “Genie always brought her cheer, her love of life, and they had so much fun sharing many wonderful memories of their times at HAS together,” notes Jenny. “It was at those times that I truly realized what a difference Genie had made in Mom’s enjoyment of her life in Haiti, and for that I have always been truly grateful.”
From schooling, to translating, to providing friendship and support—our volunteers have made a positive impact at HAS in so many ways.
You can read more about Gene’s life, and her contributions to her family and the world, by visiting this online obituary. We at HAS lovingly remember Gene and acknowledge her service with heartfelt gratitude.
On this Valentine’s weekend, we recall the words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who reflected on the lessons of our loved ones who have gone before us: “Have we given each other everything we could? Have we been everything we might have been to each other?”
We wish the McGovern family and all our former and current volunteers all the love, joy, and peace in the world—now and throughout the year!
Gene and the McGovern family have been lifelong donors to HAS. Instead of flowers, Gene requested that contributions in her memory be made to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti. Please send contributions to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, 2840 Liberty Avenue, Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or through its website, hashaiti.org.