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Mon, Jul 24, 2000 - Page 2 News List

On the trail of a humanitarian legacy

Alan Taylor only met his uncle twice, but the impression was such that Taylor and his family traveled to Taiwan to see for themselves the lifework of the man who dedicated himself to eradicating leprosy in Taiwan

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Alan Taylor and his family handed over a bundle of photos taken during the period Dr George Gushue-Taylor headed the Happy Mount Colony for sufferers of leprosy in Pali, Taipei County. The insititution, which now houses patients with mental disabilities, hopes to use the photos in a museum exhibition at the site. Gushue-Taylor is pictured seated at right in the photo above.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

For Alan Taylor, a Canadian geophysicist, a recent visit to Pali township in Taipei County on a bright summer day was more than just his first trip to Taiwan. It was a journey rich in historical significance, allowing him to catch a glimpse of the contribution his uncle made to a remote Asian country more than 60 years ago.

Taylor, accompanied by his wife and son, came to Pali, the small town opposite Tamsui across the Tamsui River, to visit the Happy Mount Colony (樂山療養院) -- a former leprosarium, now converted into a home for the mentally disabled.

The site, which presently accommodates 105 people with various mental disabilities, was founded in 1934 by Dr George Gushue-Taylor (戴仁壽), uncle of Alan Taylor, to help those suffering from leprosy in Taiwan.

"I only met my uncle twice [due to a vast age gap], but the family was in awe of what he did. At a time when nobody [in Canada] really knew where Taiwan was, my uncle chose to settle in an under-developed island in Asia to work on the eradication of leprosy with his medial expertise," said Taylor.

"The only memory I can clearly recall was that when I met him, I asked him to give me a Chinese name. I thought it a really cool thing as a child," he added.

"He was well-known for his frugality. My aunt once told me that she used to receive letters he [my uncle] sent from Taiwan, using recycled envelopes."

While standing on top of the hill, where the institution was built, Taylor paused to enjoy a bird's eye view of the Tamsui River, attempting to envision what it had looked like when his uncle chose the spot in 1931.

Comparing the view with the dozens of photos he brought along, the landscape appeared intact -- the winding river still runs and the surrounding vegetation is still flourishing. What has changed is that the leprosarium was turned into a center for the mentally disabled in 1971.

"I am sure my uncle would be pleased with its transformation. Lepers and the mentally challenged are similar in the sense that they are both regarded as outcasts in society. Now that leprosy has been eradicated in Taiwan, what they are doing -- lending a helping hand to the mentally disabled -- is equally substantial," said Taylor.

Dr Gushue-Taylor was born on Dec. 5 in 1883 in Ray Roberts, Newfoundland, Canada. He was trained as a physician in London and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons -- the highest medical honor at the time.

The doctor's work with leprosy dates back to 1911, when he was assigned by the Presbyterian Church of England to come to Taiwan.

Upon arrival, he saw a case of leprosy and he was deeply moved by the plight of leprosy sufferers. At that time, leprosy patients were rejected by society because their condition was thought to be incurable; they were also considered by superstitious people to be living under a curse.

The doctor refused to accept the idea that leprosy was an incurable disease. To him it was just a disease, and one that could be cured. His conviction prompted his research on leprosy and on measures of treatment for the disease.

In Taipei, the doctor opened the first special out-patient clinic for lepers in 1925 in connection with the Mackay Memorial Hospital (馬偕醫院), where he served as superintendent from 1923 to 1936. But the site soon became overcrowded. At the time, the doctor estimated the total number of lepers in Taiwan to be more than 4,000, and possibly even double that number.

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