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Larger-than-life hero
By Doug Snover

March 18, 2006

In 1958, Hollywood actor Hugh O’Brian was living large, riding a crest of worldwide celebrity for his starring role in the popular television series, “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.”

With oversize six-guns strapped to his side, O’Brian was larger than life, you might say. He was about to meet a true hero, however.

Just 33 at the time, O’Brian received a cable from Dr. Albert Schweitzer inviting him to visit the famed humanitarian clinic at a hospital Schweitzer had founded in 1913 on the banks of the Ogooue River in Lambarene, Gabon, in Africa.

O’Brian quickly accepted, marking the start of a lifelong commitment to helping the impoverished masses of a downtrodden nation.

Almost 50 years have passed since O’Brian took up the cause, but the relief program he started is still saving lives. Now a Kyrene Corridor man is part of a group helping to ensure that O’Brian’s work isn’t diminished by time or inattention.

Ron Gillet, formerly of Missoula, Mont., does not look like a movie star. He lives at The Lakes in Tempe and works in an austere-looking, brown-block office building on Southern Avenue in Tempe, not in some distant and dangerous jungle, as Schweitzer did.

Gillet wasn’t even born when O’Brian went to Africa to visit Schweitzer for nine memorable days.

But Gillet is helping carry on the work that started nearly half a century ago when the television star traveled halfway across the world to meet in the jungles of Africa with the German doctor/missionary who had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

“I think Dr. Schweitzer saw in Hugh a young man who was on the cusp of stardom who could have an influence, who could really speak to many people though his celebrity,” Gillet theorizes.

“I think Hugh was sort of the George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt of his day--pretty popular and pretty well known.”

According to legend, Schweitzer told O’Brian that the United States was the only country in the world with the ability to bring about world peace.

“He said the United States must take a leadership role or we are a lost civilization,” O'Brian later reported.

Schweitzer taught him that “the most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves,” O’Brian said when he returned to America.

Motivated by Schweitzer’s words--and the implied challenge when Schweitzer took his hand and asked, “Hugh, what are you going to do with this?”–the actor founded the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership organization.

Since 1958, HOBY, as the organization is called, has helped train young men and women to think for themselves and prepare to be leaders of tomorrow.

More than 345,000 young people have participated in HOBY programs throughout the world. Each year, more than 20,000 public and private high schools are invited to select an outstanding tenth grader to attend HOBY leadership development seminars.

Among HOBY’s alumni are Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who called his 1971 HOBY experience, “a genuine turning point in my life.

A HOBY brochure included endorsements from a star-studded field, including Walter Cronkite, former U.S, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as the current President Bush. Other HOBY endorsers include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Al Gore, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Muhammad Ali-- even former Soviet President Mikail Gorbachev.

And Ron Gillet, vice president of underwriting for Countrywide Home Loans, Full Spectrum Lending Division, in Tempe.

Gillet, 46, has been a HOBY volunteer for 20 years since he was asked to address one of the group’s seminar sin Missoula.

“I knew vaguely about the organization. I didn’t know much about what they did,” Gillet said. But the positive atmosphere of the HOBY seminar impressed him.

“I was really pretty taken by what they were doing,” he said.

Gillet moved to Arizona in 1987 and soon became part of the Arizona HOBY program.

“There was a group of volunteers already doing things here. I joined the group, became a leader here, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Gillet recently was named vice chair of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership board of trustees. It’s a two- year position that Gillet anticipates will lead to his being named chairman of the board in 2008.

“Mr. Gillet has a deep commitment to developing leadership skills in young people. It is that dedication that has fueled his passion for the HOBY program since he began his volunteer work for the organization 20 years ago,” said a HOBY press release announcing Gillet’s election.

“Since that time, Mr. Gillet has served as a key volunteer within the organization in a variety of capacities, including leadership seminar chair in Arizona, Corporate Board President of the Arizona HOBY affiliate, volunteer District Director of the Southwest District of HOBY and an International Board of Trustees member,” the release added.

Gillet also was named HOBY’s Volunteer of the Year for 2005 and will receive an award at an upcoming Albert Schweitzer Leadership Awards gala in Los Angeles in May.

Dr. Schweitzer’s encouragement to “teach young people to think for themselves” has become the backbone of HOBY’s program, Gillet said.

At its seminars and workshops, HOBY “brings leaders of today together with leaders of tomorrow” in a very interactive question-and-answer setting where young people can sit across the table from CEOs and government leaders “and ask them the tough questions,” Gillet said.

“Last year we did 71 seminars and had about 8,500 students go through the program,” Gillet said. “It’s a three or four day weekend seminar, held usually on a major college campus. It’s a combination of teaching and training and education in the area of leadership.”

“We put them into the position where they can have confidence that they can do this.”

“There are 175 to 200 students who don’t know each other at all, but by the time 72 hours rolls by they are fast friends who’ve developed friendships that will last a lifetime. They are a well-oiled team. They are bonded and together. It’s a really amazing experience to watch happen right in front of your eyes.”





























































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