LAURENT PIERRE-PHILIPPE, MD,
FOUNDING MEMBER OF AMHE.
AMHE will emblazon a special feather in its cap by reaching a golden anniversary. This serves as a unique occasion to fete those who had the foresight to have started it in the first place. Of the original five, Drs. Lionel Lainé, Franceorme Novembre, Roger Dérosena, Emmanuel François, Laurent Pierre-Philippe, only the last 3 are still alive. As a history buff, it behooves me to peer into the minds of the members of such a rarefied club and share some interesting findings. This is the first of a series focusing on each, one at a time. It just so happens that Dr. Pierre-Philippe will receive a plaque during the convention next month.
Dr. Pierre-Philippe, or Laurent, as he prefers to be called by his peers, proudly labels himself as a progressist and an activist. He always wants to bring everybody to the table. The learned scion or brahman, the aspiring pauper or plebeian, the talented and average Joe as well as the young, inexperienced and the old, seasoned can coalesce as a forum of the witty. He states that this became part of his DNA early on as a teen. From age 10, he has been raised mostly by his mother, a seamstress toiling hard to make sure he gets the best possible education. Her devotion marked him, and he always tried to emulate her and tried to help others at each step of his life.
Born in Port-de-Paix in 1942, he spent his grade school years under the tutelage of the Brothers of Christian Instruction. He then went to Lycée Tertulien Guilbaud, a son of the region and a remarkable individual with stellar formation and reputation with a life story inculcated into the mind of every student. Lycée Toussaint Louverture in Port-au-Prince capped his final year before he attended our national medical school whence he graduated in 1967. Upon graduation, he specialized in Orthopedics for 2 years at L’Hôpital Général and stinted as an employee at IDASH for one year before migrating to the US where he has been living ever since. Harlem Hospital hosted him for 2 years of training in Surgery. He left for a specialization in Physiatry at Jacobi-Albert Einstein in the Bronx for 2 years. He returned to Harlem for a Fellowship in the same specialty for one year, ending in 1975. He left NY for Maryland where he has resided since with his family. He has always maintained a NY and Maryland state license. He became board certified in PM&R.
He has left his fingerprint at every stop. Nevertheless, his involvement with the creation of AMHE holds the sparkle of a crown jewel. As he recalls it, Dr. Lainé who was at Harlem after many years spent in medical school in France-though he started it back home-started the whole movement. Initially Dr. Lainé would forever complain about the American pedestrian approach to life. He missed the decorum of fine dining with wine and the professional ambiance among colleagues and dreamt of gathering his peers to do the same at a chic restaurant. His musings had become legendary during lunch time at the cafeteria at Harlem Hospital. One year later, the idea of a social gathering had morphed into the creation of a medical society. By then Dr. Pierre-Philippe was at Jacobi and the first meeting took place with a group of about 16 physicians. They chose a name for the organization and voted for a start-up committee that included the names listed above. Dr. François, despite living in Maryland, was very active and a nucleus of very active members made up of Drs. Pierre-Philippe, Dérosena and Lainé held the torch. Soon, Dr. Fabien Wesner Fleurant started playing a crucial role in shaping AMHE. There are plenty of reports chronicling the early years; he would rather bring a different perspective, an assessment, years removed from the events.
Suffice it to say that Dr. Pierre-Philippe fondly recalls the days before fax machine, word processor, the tedium involved for mass mailing, creating copies of documents by using labor-intensive and now outdated technology. He also recalls that Dr. François had to purchase the mailing list of the AMA to cull from it familiar names to establish our own list.
He remembers Dr. Lainé’s checkered and short-lived stewardship. His political ambitions ran afoul of AMHE’s status as devoid of partisan politics. He last saw Dr. Lainé on his way to NY from the Carolinas accompanied by Dr. Turneb Delpé and both slept over at his house in Maryland. Dr. Pierre-Philippe learned later, like all others, that Dr. Lainé spirited out of the US to embark on his foray back home to start an uprising. Unfortunately, he lost his life. Some say from a gunshot wound.
From the onset, Dr. Pierre-Philippe always had a forward-looking perspective to help AMHE. He is proud of the fact that the initial group of adherents and supporters many times spent their own money to make it work. Besides the position of General Treasurer that he held during the beginning, he also became a member of the Board of Trustees of AMHE. Looking back now he wants to highlight some achievements and misses:
- Charter of AMHE:
- Incorporation and Bylaws.
- Creation of function of Administrative Secretary.
- Creation of a Convention Committee.
- Purchase of a brownstone in Manhattan in the early seventies. A Haitian broker by the name of Emmanuel Racine had helped identify such a building that was selling for the modicum price of $50,000. It would have been the headquarters of AMHE. This was a big miss and one he regrets that we didn’t have the prescience to bring to fruition. He feels that as the then youngest member of the hierarchy, some of the elders resented being shown-up by a young stallion, so to speak. He had that very distinct feeling with some of the older colleagues in Chicago long established who took askance to his exuberance and mistook him for a maverick. Le droit d’aînesse, a common tendency among us, taken to its extreme, devolves into a hidebound tradition that imperils innovative ideas, especially initiated by the younger set.
- Creation of AMHE investors, Inc. This was created by myself, Dr. André Muzac and Dr. François. A minimum investment of $1,000.00 was required. About 20 physicians subscribed to it. An Executive Committee was created, and financial consultants were hired. Opposition to it mothballed the initiative. All money received was returned and the project folded. It should be noted that other ethnic groups do this routinely and develop wealth. Somehow, we tend to be behind the ball. This was a sad experience.
- Organization and partial financing of Strategic Plans I & II. He helped spearhead the creation of both and he simply wishes it were not for naught as he spent quite a bit of energy and his own financial resources to make them come to life. He calls this constructive criticism and has no intention of bashing.
Dr. Pierre-Philippe wants to make a special comment about the AMHE-GRAHN Ambulatory Health Center. He feels very strongly about this flagship project of AMHE in creating an eponymous center that will soon be functional. Such endeavor has always been the type of positive developments alluded to in the original charter. Even though he has not played a role in its birthing, he considers it a milestone befitting our golden anniversary and worthy of his praise.
Dr. Pierre-Philippe leaves behind a lifelong commitment “to give back.” First, he worked as medical director at a jail in Jessup, Maryland. Then he held the same title at Bon Secours Hospital and Provident Hospital, both in Baltimore and serving underprivileged members of society. Furthermore, Baltimore, a city that brings forth the image of inner-city turmoil, was his professional home from the late seventies till 2009. He established deep roots there and created a medical oasis to offer first-rate care in rehabilitation to the destitute. That became by default his giving back to his African American brothers and sisters since he couldn’t do so back home. As he would describe it, “The center, Community Medical Rehabilitation Center, CMRC, was created through brawn and grit. First, I participated in a management course at UNC Kron Scholar in Chapel Hill, NC, and obtained a certificate. This enhanced my financial and managerial acumen. Then I bought 4 buildings and obtained a loan from the city of Baltimore and refurbished them. This was under the Historic Rehab program, and I was able to establish a 3200 square feet medical complex. It was fully accredited by CARF. I was an entrepreneur-builder-owner-founder and then medical director. I remained for my whole professional life the sole black owner of such a comprehensive center in the state”.
Along the way he learned the rules of engagement and became involved in Democratic circles. He attended numerous fundraising events and befriended such luminaries as the recently departed head of the House’s Ways and Means Committee, Elijah Cummings, who also became his patient. His activities reached the statehouse and he had the governor’s phone number on speed dial. He and Dr. Rodrigue Mortel developed close bonds starting with the latter’s friendship with the Archbishop of Baltimore. He recounts that the prelate wanted to celebrate a mass for the Haitian community and asked Dr. Mortel to find someone who could help in assembling a sizable gathering. Dr. Mortel introduced them and Dr. Pierre-Philippe on a short notice was able to bring a crowd of more than one thousand into the cathedral.
His efforts always included his native city in his visor. Hence, he helped establish the twinning between Baltimore and Port-de-Paix as sister cities. His visor swept a large swath. He helped create a foundation, Haitian Holidays Festival in Washington, DC. He was instrumental in hosting seminars, concerts at various venues, including the Adams Hotel, an exclusive spot across the White House. The same verve that he used to hobnob with the establishment in Baltimore, he duplicated it in the nation’s capital and had access to the Rotunda at the Capitol to throw cultural events celebrating the motherland.
He was member of the Board of the Washington Office in Haiti, a Haitian advocacy group created by Fathers Adrien and Smarth. This organization was very instrumental in facilitating the democratic election of President Jean Bertrand Aristide in Haiti.
In 1997 while on a Christmas vacation in Orlando, Florida, a stroke of luck made Dr. Pierre-Philppe a winner of the lottery. He then declared to the national media that, “His blessings will help build the Road of Fraternity: modern seaport-airport-roads in his hometown of Port-de-Paix.” He spent at least six digits of his own money to start the establishment of a new economically viable enterprise in Sources Chaudes, La plaine de l’arbre, an arid area in the Artibonite region. That almost cost him his life because his maneuvering was interpretated as symbolic of presidential aspiration, a mortal sin. He left the country 22 years ago and has not set his foot back.
No matter, he couldn’t get the bug of helping others out of his system. He was instrumental in creating Nòdwès Reyini. In his own words, this entity’s reason for existing:
•To give something back.
•To put the Northwest in people’s mind.
•To lobby for better roads, airport, seaport, hospital.
•To facilitate better interactions among members of different socioeconomic classes.
•To encourage investment in the department.
•Disaster preparedness and intervention.
He subsidized annual picnics at Heckscher State Park in Long Island every summer, as part of activities of Nòdwès Reyini, paying the cost of food and entertainment for 22 years running. Lately he has been concentrating on Konbit-Reengineering-Haiti, a project to disseminate positive information about our country folks, our homeland with a strong dose of positive collective spirituality. He meditates twice a day nowadays; he strongly believes this will make a difference to the travails of our homeland. He will be the first to admit he wears his heart on his sleeves, even to a fault, from the very beginning. As he now faces the sunset of his existence, he wants to share some of his experience and wisdom with others.
His advice for the elders?
He wishes that the elders be more flexible and open to novel ideas and solutions for age-old problems. He was once the victim of such inflexibility and wishes we stop this mindset.
His advice for the younger set?
Do the right thing for yourself and for others; stay positive. Gratitude. Bring yourself and your country into Light, Love, Enlightenment.
When informed of the plaque being awarded to him, this was his reply:
Among all awards received in my life, this plaque is a testimonial of something of great value – quality -appreciation -gratitude for years of giving back the best of myself to my country, my compatriots now and in the future. I am honored to be appreciated.
As the coda of his life rather than an epitaph, he concludes by stating:
Continue to give something back, with enlightenment and love. Be a unifier to enhance the indigents’ access to opportunities offered by society and harmonize relations among the privileged and the needy.
Reynald Altéma, MD.