In which our intrepid hero digs up something he meant to post over a year ago.

It was my sister’s birthday last Friday, and Mim K/W and I are still waiting on presents to arrive so we can bundle them up and send them on. One of them features a quote by Albert Schweitzer (I’m not giving too much away in case my sister reads this), and it reminded me of something I meant to post here as far back as April last year.

Leslie Allerton Jacobs (b. 1903 Lambeth, UK) was my paternal grandfather. He was also the first Principal of Harristown High School in Toowoomba, Queensland. My sister took a trip to Toowoomba a couple of years ago and dug up a bit of information on him from the local Historical Society archives. She gave me a copy of this editorial from a November 1965 (I think) school newsletter:

My Good Friends,

How would you like to be a brilliant doctor and a world-famous authority on obscure diseases? Or a gifted author, with your books sought after in a dozen other countries? Or perhaps a talented organist, with an international reputation as the foremost living exponent of Bach?

More importantly—if you possessed any of the talents I have suggested, just how would you use them? Would you establish an elaborate clinic among the specialists, extract fat fees from fatuous patients, and spend lengthy vacations on your expensive yacht? Would you give up writing, except for an occasional book when your fans clamoured loudly enough, meanwhile living in luxurious retirement on the French Riviera? Would you tour the world, accepting engagements to perform only in the Best Places before the Best People?

Don’t feel too badly if these suggestions match perfectly your ideas of Glorious Well-earned Success: believe me, you would be positively abnormal if you felt otherwise.

There must have been something positively abnormal about that young fellow from the small country town in Alsace. While still in his twenties, he was renowned all over Europe as a great organist, specialising in the works of Bach.

Despite this success, he felt that he was not fulfilling his true purpose in life; his troubled mind found peace in the call of the Church, in which he acquired a wide reputation for his outspoken views on religious matters; he wrote several brilliant but highly controversial books that became best-sellers.

Firmly established as a great musician and gifted writer, what normal person could ask for more? But remember this young man was not accounted normal. Still striving to discover the task for which he felt destined, he sought and obtained permission from his Church to go as a missionary to the Congo. The squalor, privation, and disease among the primitive tribes shocked him so deeply that he returned home; not to his former life of ease, but to qualify as a doctor of medicine. He had found his vocation: to devote the rest of his life to the alleviation of suffering and hardships in the African jungle.

He spent the next fifty-two years cut off from the white race, living under the same crude conditions as his black proteges, and ministering to all their physical and spiritual needs; returning to civilisation in rare, brief visits only when he needed to raise more money by giving lectures and organ recitals. He died last September, in his native headquarters, at the age of ninety, mourned by his revering “children” and a large portion of the civilised world.

You and I are too normal to expect to equal him in talents or dedication; but perhaps his example will serve as a spur to develop our lesser talents and use them faithfully and honourably.

I humbly dedicate my Page to the memory of Albert Schweitzer of Lambarene, a real “way-out”—one of God’s Own Way-Outs.

My grandfather died in 1977. I was too young to remember him in person, so I remember him through keepsakes and passages like these.

It strikes me as eerie just how much I have in common with him, a man 72 years older than myself, whose life is mostly a cipher to me. I’m not nearly as religious as he was, but there are traces of attitudes that have filtered down the generations that survive in me today, like the necessity of the learned to serve the underprivileged.

I don’t what he looked like, but every time I look in the mirror, I suspect I see suggestions of a face that lives on in his descendants. And as I read what he wrote, I see the remnants of a mind which has likewise carried down the generations.