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, was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, parlaying his fame as television’s legendary Wyatt Earp into extra income by guest-starring with a circus when a cable arrived from French Equatorial Africa reporting that Dr. Albert Schweitzer would welcome him at any time. 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 he 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.
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. “He said the United States must take a leadership role,” O’Brian recounts, “or we are a lost civilization.”
It was an unforgettable nine days. And, as O’Brian departed, Schweitzer took his hand and asked: “Hugh, what are you going to do with this?” Two weeks after his 1958 meeting with Schweitzer, O’Brian put together a prototype seminar for young leaders.
From 1958 to 1967, leadership seminars took place in Los Angeles for sophomores from California. In 1968 the scope of the HOBY program grew to include national and international participants, and the seminar moved annually to different major cities across the United States. The World Leadership Congress — HOBY “Super Bowl” that brings together students from around the world for an eight-day expanded global leadership seminar — began. In an effort to include more students nationwide, three-day and four-day HOBY Leadership Seminars were instituted in 1977 in which high schools throughout the country may nominate a sophomore to attend a HOBY seminar in their state.
Annually, more than 8,000 sophomores, representing as many high schools, attend HOBY Leadership Seminars nationally and internationally. In 1991, HOBY added one-day leadership seminars called Community Leadership Workshops (CLEWs). These workshops have become popular because schools may nominate multiple numbers of students.
Today, HOBY reaches out around the world with leadership seminars held at 70 locations across the country and HOBY-style programs in Canada, Mexico, Israel, China, Taiwan, Korea, Bolivia, and Argentina. More than 4,000 volunteers run HOBY’s programs with community leaders, business executives, educators and parents involved in every seminar.