|A Brief Biography of Albert Schweitzer
Schweitzer (1875-1965): Albert Schweitzer was born the son of a Lutheran
pastor, and brought up in the quiet valley villages of the Vosges Mountains,
Alsace, then part of Germany and later part of France. He showed no sign
of early talent, but in his teens suddenly developed a late flowering
of impassioned curiosity. In his twenties he wrote seminal works on Bach,
on the Historical Jesus and on organ building. He became an acclaimed
organist, a church pastor, principal of a theological seminary and a university
professor with a doctorate in philosophy.
None of this satisfied him, and at the age of 30, aware of the desperate
need of Africans for medical care, he decided to become a medical doctor
and devote the rest of his life to serving the people of Africa. In 1913,
at the age of 37, Dr. Schweitzer and his wife, Hélène, opened
a hospital in Lambarene, Gabon then a province of French Equatorial
Africa. Here, 150 miles into the interior, with one of the worst climates
in the world, he devoted his life to providing health care for the desperately
deprived and primitive people of the area.
In 1915 he hit upon the phrase "Reverence
for Life" as the elementary and universal principle of ethics
which he had been seeking. From the "will to live" evidenced
in all living beings, Schweitzer demonstrated the ethical response for
humans Reverence for Life. By stressing the inter-dependence and
unity of all life, he was a forerunner of the environmental and animal
welfare movements of to-day.
As German citizens working in a French colony, the Schweitzers were technically
enemy aliens and were interned in France, where both fell sick, and where
their daughter Rhenawas conceived. It was some years before Schweitzer
was able to return to Lambarene, while Hélène, suffering
from tuberculosis and with a small child to care for, was never able to
take up full-time work there again.
The hospital never stopped growing. Schweitzer survived another World
War, and in 1953, at the age of 78, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
for the year 1952. In the speeches and writings during the last years
of his life, he emphasized the dangers of nuclear weapons and the nuclear
arms race between the superpowers, and was instrumental in reversing American
military policy on the testing of hydrogen bombs.
Although no longer practising medicine, he continued to oversee the hospital
until his death at the age of 90. By this time there were 72 buildings,
with beds for six hundred patients, and the staff comprised 6 doctors
and 35 nurses. He passed the administration of the hospital to his daughter
Albert Schweitzer and his wife are buried on the hospital grounds in Lambarene.
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