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Beginnings in an

African Jungle

In the summer of 1958, actor Hugh O’Brian received the invitation that would change his life. O’Brian, then 33, had already made a name for himself as an actor portraying the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp on television and appearing in numerous films when a cable arrived from French Equatorial Africa. The cable reported that Dr. Albert Schweitzer would welcome him at any time for a visit.

O’Brian had long admired the German doctor-missionary-theologian-musician. “I'd read so much about him,” O’Brian reflects. “He was a great humanitarian who could have done anything he wanted in the world, and there he was in the middle of Africa taking care of people.” Within two weeks O’Brian was on his way, by commercial airliner, bush plane and canoe, to the famed hospital that Schweitzer had founded in 1913 on the banks of the Ogooue River in Lambarene.

There he was met by a very old man with a huge, white walrus mustache, wearing white pants, shirt and pith helmet. “That was his uniform,” says O’Brian, recalling his first sighting of Schweitzer. The actor spent nine days at the clinic complex where Schweitzer and volunteer doctors and nurses, working without electricity or running water, cared for patients including many with leprosy. O’Brian spent his days assisting the volunteers in the hospital and his nights with Dr. Schweitzer discussing global peace and world politics.

Schweitzer, then 83, who had received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in behalf of the “Brotherhood of Nations,” was concerned about global peace prospects and was impressed that the young American had taken the time to visit him. The doctor led the actor through history over those evenings. Schweitzer was convinced that the United States was the only country in the world with the ability to bring about peace.

Dr. Schweitzer told O’Brian that he felt “The most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves,” which O’Brian would never forget. “He said the United States must take a leadership role,” O'Brian recounts, “or we are a lost civilization.” After an inspiring nine days, O’Brian prepared to return to America.

Before saying goodbye, Dr. Schweitzer took O’Brian’s hand and asked, “Hugh, what are you going to do with this?” It was these words combined with his unforgettable visit that compelled O’Brian to form Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). Two weeks after returning from his 1958 visit to Africa, O’Brian put together a prototype seminar for young leaders.

…from Dr. Albert Schweitzer… to Hugh O’Brian… to You… to the World…