QUOTES ABOUT ALBERT SCHWEITZER
"It is exceptionally important to celebrate the lives of people who have dedicated themselves to the cause of peace. As a trained physician Dr. Albert Schweitzer gave much of his working life in actual practice to the health and welfare of people in Africa. In addition to his exemplary conduct, his philosophy focusing on reverence for life and his campaign against nuclear weapons that naturally flowed from it remain sources of great inspiration today." (Letter to Walt Martin and Magda Ott, 2004.)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
1989 Nobel Peace Laureate
"We are afflicted today by "just me-ism." Millions of people think: "It can't make any difference what I do - it's just me." But imagine what the world would be like if we could turn that around - millions of people all knowing that every moment of every day they do make a difference. Albert Schweitzer embodied the ideal of living one's life as if every second matters.” (Letter to Walt Martin and Magda Ott, 2004.)
Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE
founder, Jane Goodall Institute
UN Messenger of Peace
“Albert Schweitzer brought to the early twentieth century one of the most powerful and wide-ranging intellects the world has seen. He not only studied but also mastered philosophy, music, theology, and medicine. He even became the world’s authority on Bach and organ building. Then Dr. Schweitzer demonstrated his gratitude for the gifts he had been given by devoting the majority of his life to relieving the suffering of the people of Central Africa.
Despite an isolation that is hard to fathom in our age of easy communications, while in Africa Dr. Schweitzer stayed current on the affairs of the world and provided commentary on ethics, war, nuclear weapons, and environmental degradation. His eclectic interests benefited not only Africa but the entire world.” (Foreword to Out of My Life and Thought)
President Jimmy Carter
2002 Nobel Peace Laureate
“No greater compliment can be rendered to a human being than the founding of a movement embodying Schweitzer’s teachings. Indeed, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is Dr. Schweitzer’s heir in the ongoing struggle against an unprecedented threat to the survival of all living things.”
Bernard Lown, MD
Founding Co-President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
1985 Nobel Peace Laureate Organization
“Albert Schweitzer has not disappeared…death could never be strong enough to eliminate one of the most brilliant and exemplary spirits of our time…No effort should be spared in encouraging the powers that possess nuclear arms to totally destroy them, and to prevent other states from being able to manufacture them. We can be sure that if Albert Schweitzer were alive today, he would consider that to be one of his most important tasks.
However, we can also be sure that this great apostle of human life and dignity would have taken the condemnation of the nuclear arms build-up to its logical conclusion. He would have condemned the arms race without reservation…
Now is the time to scale down military posturing and belligerent rhetoric. Now is the time for us all to accept our moral responsibility to make peace the first priority…Let us together create a world that does not destroy, a world that nurtures the best in all mankind. As Albert Schweitzer would have done, let us dedicate our efforts and wills to constructing peace and discouraging violence.” (Address to International Schweitzer Colloquium, United Nations, August 23, 1990.)
Oscar Arias Sanchez
1987 Nobel Peace Laureate
“It is clear that moral people inspire us…Eventually, that inspiration leads more of us into action. Look how the world goes gooey over a Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela and Albert Schweitzer. Somehow the world is hungry for goodness and recognizes when it sees it - and has an incredible response to the good. There's something in all of us that hungers after the good and true, and when we glimpse it in people, we applaud them for it. We long to be just a little like them. Through them we let the world's pain into our hearts, and we find compassion. When things go wrong or have been terribly wrong for sometime, their inspiration reminds us of the tenderness for life that we can all feel.” (Parade Magazine, January 11, 1998)
Rev. Desmond Tutu
1984 Nobel Peace Laureate
“Music did play such an important role in Albert Schweitzer’s life. In fact, I believe that within music is contained all the main elements of his life: faith, healing, and service…Faith, healing, and service are so much what I think a musician should strive for. Just as the physician tries to heal the body, the musician tries to address the soul...Lately at my concerts, if I am nervous I try to tell myself that I’m not there to prove anything, I’m not there to impress people. I’m there to serve. I’m there to communicate something I really believe in. And the more I can do that, the more I can actually get rid of anxiety, fear, and nerves. And in fact this energy becomes a renewable resource I can use over and over again…” (From remarks at ASF Boston Schweitzer Symposium, October 1991.)
“In 1991, Judge Mark Wolf of Boston invited me to participate in an interdisciplinary symposium on Albert Schweitzer, the musician, theologian, and physician who was also an eminent Bach scholar. Schweitzer described Bach as a “painterly” or “pictorial” composer. His articulation of the visual quality of Bach’s music gave me the courage to begin an unusual project related to the Bach Suites called “Inspired by Bach.” …This project, in which Bach’s music inspired dance, film, and garden design, has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.” (From liner notes to re-recording of the Bach Cello Suites.)
“The Schweitzer Symposium [sponsored by ASF in Boston in 1991] has continued to influence my life. During the concert with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra there were free seats reserved for the homeless and those living in shelters. Although the concert was well attended, those seats remained empty. I was quite struck by this and have consequently, in my various travels, tried to visit shelters and children to play…It is a comfort knowing that there are people that there are people in other fields that have an idealism for thought and civic-mindedness. I feel we share a reverence for life and try to somehow incorporate this into our daily lives. We are not alone, and this is perhaps the most important message I learned from the Schweitzer Symposium.” (Letter to Mark L. Wolf, April 27, 1995)
“You are one of the transcendent moral influences of our century. I earnestly hope that you will consider throwing the great weight of that influence behind the movement for general and complete disarmament…” (Letter to Dr. Schweitzer, June 6, 1962)
President John F. Kennedy
“His message and his example, which have lightened the darkest years of this century, will continue to strengthen all those who strive to create a world living in peace and brotherhood.”
President Lyndon Baines Johnson
“When I think about Albert Schweitzer, I think about a man to whom service to others was a creed. I think about a man who lifted the lives of countless people, and whose selfless example has inspired countless more. I think about a man of tremendous character, who did the Lord's work with humility and decency.
Of course, today Schweitzer looms over us as a man of saintly proportions. He is rightly revered, for his devotion to improving the human condition--in body, mind, and spirit--has had a profound impact on mankind.
But Schweitzer also inspires us for the personal hardships he overcame.
It was an article by the Paris Missionary Society that revealed his life calling to Schweitzer, an urgent petition explaining the need for physicians in the French Congo, today Gabon. To that point, in 1904, he was widely recognized as a talented musician and a respected theologian. So his decision to forego what would have been a more comfortable lifestyle for medical school and, ultimately, Africa proved to be a controversial one to those around him.
For contradicting the common wisdom of his time, Schweitzer was branded a radical. Indeed, in this day and age, Schweitzer would have been deemed "politically incorrect"--and, no doubt, the subject of endless talk shows.
But back then, the Paris Missionary Society--the same organization advertising their dire need for health care workers--rejected his application because they didn't want to give a public platform to a "free thinker" who possessed strong theological beliefs. In their view, Schweitzer was trouble.
Schweitzer and his wife, Helene Bresslau, were not about to let a bureaucratic roadblock stop them. They spent two years raising funds and, in 1913, traveled to Lambaréné in the French Congo to open their first clinic in a chicken coop. Eventually the operation grew, and today thousands are treated there every year.
My point in recounting this is: Even Albert Schweitzer had to start somewhere. Even he had problems--critics who detracted him, bureaucrats who sought to undermine him. Indeed, at one point, he and his wife were solely reliant on the goodwill of friends.
But the spirit to endure, and to serve, kept him going. And ours is a better world today because people like Albert Schweitzer, and Mother Teresa, rolled up their sleeves, and lent a caring hand to those in need.” Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal Ceremony, Johns Hopkins University, October 9, 1997)
President George H. W. Bush
“[Schweitzer] did not preach and did not warn and did not dream that his example would be an ideal and comfort to innumerable people. He simply acted out of inner necessity."
“We need to ask ourselves about the moral implications of Schweitzer in the modern world: what would he represent to us today?…It seems to me that Schweitzer’s greatest power is represented by his ability to bring out the best in us and to make us hungry to apply that best…We take nourishment and inspiration from his memory.
We recognize that his contribution to peace has not been so much to our understanding of the principles of peace, as to the recognition of our responsibility to build as we have to build, to prod as we have to prod, in the cause of peace.
When I think back on Schweitzer at Lambaréné, I think of his prodigious, very practical labors. Often he worked around the clock. I especially remember his great good humor under those circumstances, and the many amusing stories he loved to tell that would brighten the day for all those around him. He urged us never to lose our sense of humor; he regarded humor as a regenerating force in life, which it is. And he urged us never to lose confidence in ourselves.
Albert Schweitzer would tell us that although a problem might be great, our ability to meet the problem is even greater. It seems to me that this is a useful message for us at a time when everything looks bleak, at a time when we feel there is no place to take hold. Schweitzer would say to us: there is a place to take hold. We must recognized that the individual in today’s world is sovereign, that the individual holds the ultimate power, that we have the obligation to move nations as they have to be moved, and we are in exactly the right place to begin.” (Address to International Schweitzer Colloquium, United Nations, August 23, 1990 )
“The main point about Schweitzer is that he helped make it possible for twentieth-century man to unblock his moral vision. There is a tendency in a relativistic age for people to pursue all sides of a question as an end in itself, finding relief and even refuge in the difficulty of defining good and evil. The result is a clogging of the moral sense, a certain feeling of self-consciousness or even discomfort when questions with ethical content are raised. Schweitzer furnished the nourishing evidence that nothing is more natural in life than a moral response, which exists independently of precise definition, its use leading not to exhaustion but to new energy.
The greatness of Schweitzer – indeed, the essence of Schweitzer –…was what others have done because of him and the power of his example. What was it about Schweitzer that caused Larimer and Gwen Mellon…and all the others to set their lives on a new course? It was the enduring proof Schweitzer furnished that we need not torment ourselves about the nature of human purpose. The scholar, he once wrote, must not live for science alone, nor the businessman for his business, nor the artist for his art. If affirmation for life is genuine, it will ‘demand from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others.’
Schweitzer’s main achievement was a simple one…the proof of his genuineness and his integrity is to be found in the response he awakened in people…He reached countless millions who never saw him but who were able to identify themselves with him because of the invisible and splendid fact of his own identification with them. This is the measure of the man. What has come out of his life and thought is the kind of inspiration that can animate a generation.” (From Epilogue, Albert Schweitzer’s Mission: Healing and Peace. W.W. Norton and Company. New York. 1985.)
Editor, The Saturday Review
“Forty years ago, as a teenager, I was confined for months in a body cast, but my mind was freed by the discovery of Albert Schweitzer. Thus I was allowed, during these months, to share his emotions: the shame when he killed a bird, the moment of his discovery of how richly blessed he was and what that required of his life, his understanding that the benefits of science and medicine must be shared with those who do not have them. So over the years I read what he wrote, and wondered about Africa. In August of 1965…I went to work in a medical center in Africa. I somehow expected that Schweitzer would escape the bonds of mortality and that I would meet him. It was not to be…he died within days of my arrival in Africa.
On the other hand, it is precisely because of his immortality that we gather here today…His direct influence on the lives of people who lived within traveling distance of his hospital was great; even greater is the influence he has had upon people who did not physically stand in that hospital.
He never stopped growing through his life, but the exciting aftermath is…that he continues to grow in death, through the work of people who he inspired by his example…
If we are to face the challenge of closing the gap between the health status of Africa and of the West, the scientific, logistic, resource, and administrative demands will be daunting. But the hardest challenge will not be those. The formidable challenge will be: will we meet that Schweitzer test of being civilized people and civilized nations by how we treat others?
We pay homage today to Albert Schweitzer for living the example of a civilized person.” (Address to International Schweitzer Colloquium, United Nations, August 23, 1990)
William Foege, MD
Former Director, Centers for Disease Control
Former Executive Director, The Carter Center
Senior Medical Advisor, Global Health Program
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
"There is no higher goal in life than to make the world better than one found it for all those who follow. Dr. Albert Schweitzer did this as well and as fully as anyone who ever lived. We must never forget this man." (Letter to Walt Martin and Magda Ott, 2004)
Eric Chivian, M.D.
Founder, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School
Co-founder, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
1985 Nobel Peace Prize
“To me, Dr. Schweitzer is the one truly great individual our modern times have produced. If, during the coming years, we are to find our way through the problems that beset us, it will surely be in large part through a wider understanding and application of his principles.
I often reread his own account of the day when there suddenly dawned on his mind the concept of Reverence for Life. In few words, yet so vividly, he describes that scene on a remote river in Africa. He had traveled laboriously upstream for three days in a small river steamer, traveling 160 miles to treat the ailing wife of a missionary. On the way he had been deep in thought, struggling to formulate that universal concept he had been unable to find in any philosophy.
At sunset on the third day the steamer came upon a herd of hippopotami. Suddenly there flashed into his mind the phrase, “Reverence for Life,” which all the world now knows.
He gives us few details – just that sand-choked river at sunset, the herd of great beasts – but there it was, that flash of deep insight, that sudden awareness.
In his various writings, we may read Dr. Schweitzer’s philosophical interpretation of that phrase. But to many of us, the truest understanding of Reverence for Life comes, as it did to him, from some personal experience, perhaps the sudden, unexpected sight of a wild creature, perhaps some experience with a pet. Whatever it may be, it is something that takes us out of ourselves, that makes us aware of other life.
From my own store of memories, I think of the sight of a small crab alone on a dark beach at night, a small and fragile being waiting at the edge of the roaring surf, yet so perfectly at home in its world. To me it seemed a symbol of life, and of the way life has adjusted to the forces of its physical environment. Or I think of a morning when I stood in a North Carolina marsh at sunrise, watching flock after flock of Canada geese rise from resting places at the edge of a lake and pass low overhead. In that orange light, their plumage was like brown velvet. Or I have found that deep awareness of life and its meaning in the eyes of a beloved cat.
Dr. Schweitzer has told us that we are not being truly civilized if we concern ourselves only with the relation of man to man. What is important is the relation of man to all life. This has never been so tragically overlooked as in our present age, when through our technology we are waging war against the natural world. It is a valid question whether any civilization can do this and retain the right to be called civilized. By acquiescing in needless destruction and suffering, our stature as human beings is diminished.
All the world pays tribute to Dr. Schweitzer, but all too seldom do we put his philosophy into practice.” (from Rachel Carson, The Writer at Work, by Paul Brooks. Sierra Club Books. 1989)
Author, Silent Spring
“Albert Schweitzer was a pioneer, a man who discovered and tried to apply in deed, in his time and in his way, a fundamental truth about human life and solidarity. Pioneers and other leaders may show us the way through the drama of their acts or the clarity and beauty of their ideas, but we all know that they cannot do it for us. We know that we must also make that journey to make these truths our own, and to seek our way to live our life in truth.
A great tradition states that each life is as an entire world. Across a great divide of history, the voice of Albert Schweitzer reaches us today, linking the most personal with the universal, through an ethic of Reverence for Life…
We must take from Schweitzer his most important, his timeless message – to make of our lives, as he did of his…to make our lives our argument: for human rights, health, solidarity, and peace.” (Closing Plenary Address, 1991 Boston Schweitzer Symposium)
Jonathan Mann, MD, MPH
Founder, WHO Global Programme on AIDS
Co-founder, Albert Schweitzer Award, Harvard School of Public Health