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In Memory & Tribute to Marlene Thomson Mitchell

Here is the story of how the Dooley Intermed AirIntermed program began written in 2002 by the late Dr. Verne Chaney

In memory and tribute to Marlene Thomson Mitchell

Volunteer Airline Stewardess Program

When one is a young, idealistic, adventuresome surgeon without much business sense, as is true of most doctors, decisions are usually made decisively and facilely, but unfortunately not always
wisely. Be that as it may, indecision to such a person is most often an uncomfortable anathema.

It was September 1961, Dr. Tom Dooley had died 8 months earlier and his organization MEDICO, soon died after him, absent his extraordinary popularity and fundraising talents. A decision had to be made, as Dr. Chaney, then the Medical Director for Dr. Dooley’s organization MEDICO, had just returned from consulting on projects in Afghanistan, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. No question about it, the time had come to move on. The dilemma – – do I, a) close and forget the Tom Dooley projects and go back to private practice in Monterey California orb) start a new organization to continue where MEDICO left off.

Chaney chose the latter, fitting into the above described pattern, – – an impulsive facile decision but one of questionable wisdom. Hey! A really quixotic idea, Chaney – – go right ahead, you have no money, no office, no staff, no Board and you know nothing about fundraising – – lot’s of luck doctor!

At the program sites Tom set-up, he made many extravagant promises and hundreds of villagers and refugees were dependent upon his projects for their only medical care. This new organization to be setup, and to naturally to be called The Dooley Foundation, was going to have to provide staff, supplies and medicines to 5 hospitals and an orphanage in Saigon. The major expense would be expatriate staff salaries and transportation – – medicines and supplies were usually donated.

This undertaking was getting to be more and more a very lonely idea fraught with dyspepsia and sleeplessness. The thought then occurred to me that perhaps volunteers could be drafted for overseas duty in the projects since they probably wouldn’t be much of an expense. But on reflection, not likely, I thought – – too many problems, and besides, there’s a war going on. In the course of talking over this problem with a friend, Marlene Thomson, who happened to be a Pan Am stewardess, she offered up a possible remedy – – Marlene’s thought was to use airline stewardesses to work in the programs – – as they can usually get time off from work and can use their airline passes to fly free to wherever – – many were nurses, teachers, or social workers and most had college degrees. All had been well trained by their airline to work under difficult circumstances with every kind of passenger, that came abroad. Most of them, she surmised, would be willing to work in a Dooley project perhaps for as much as three months without pay provided they didn’t lose seniority with their airline.

I was surprised and certainly pleased with her idea and especially when she offered to be the first to go, provided I was really serious about this crazy idea. Well, I was, albeit with a fair measure of hesitation as to the practicality of it all. For starters, the existing Dooley program with Tibetan refugees in India seemed to me to be a reasonable place to ‘give the idea a trial run, which at the time, I was reasonably sure would be a short one. Fortunately, I had a Tibetan friend in Darjeeling India, Larry Lawang, who was the superintendent of schools there, as well as in Kalimpong, India. After several phone calls and letters, Larry was finally persuaded to cooperate and to allow Marlene to work as a volunteer with his young students at the Darjeeling Elementary School for a limited time.

Within a short time after her arrival, it was apparent Marlene was a natural for her new assignment – – teaching English, – – making sure the children had weekly showers, – – that they were checked regularly for lice – – a facility resembling a first aid station was set-up, – – advice on cleanliness and good nutrition was preached – – local merchants were cajoled into providing adequate clothing and bedding – – not bad for a remarkable lady who is neither a nurse, a teacher nor a mother.

Marlene Thomson at Tibetan School in Darjeeling