February 9, 2017

Couple served on SS HOPE ship in Guinea

Buddy and Marilyn Guynn credit the SS HOPE for bridging the geographic distance between them and steering them toward a journey of 51 years of marriage.

“With each of us living and working on opposite coasts, the likelihood of ever meeting was remote,” says Buddy. “The ship brought us together at the same place and time that allowed our meeting to happen.”

It was 1964. Marilyn had finished nursing school at the Presbyterian Hospital in Newark, N.J., and had relocated to California to work in the operating room at UCLA Medical Center. There, she read an article about the SS HOPE mission and decided to join the voyage to Conakry, Guinea.

Buddy had attended pharmacy school at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, Va., and then continued his practice at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond. He learned about the SS HOPE mission from his college roommate, who was serving aboard the ship. Buddy had not traveled much, but he was ready for adventure, so when an opening occurred he signed on, joining the ship in West Africa.

Both Buddy and Marilyn had good professional positions at major medical centers and were secure in their futures. However, they – and many, many other volunteers – were willing to give up this security in order to perform a service to mankind in a less fortunate part of the world.

“To walk away from a job for a year is not something one would take lightly,” says Buddy. “If you were to ask the average person on the street if they would pick up and move half way around the world for a year to perform a humanitarian service the vast majority would have numerous excuses why they could not or would not choose to do this. Marilyn and I both were on the ship because we felt the same way about doing something, more than the average person, to provide some humanitarian services.”

And this mutual mindset laid the groundwork for compatibility.

Pharmacist and nurse volunteered on SS HOPE ship in Africa

“We’re not certain exactly when we actually met each other, but maybe it was fortuitous that the Dutch door to the pharmacy was directly across the passage way from the Dutch door to the operating room sterile prep area,” recalls Buddy.

Their onboard courtship included happy hours in the doctors’ lounge where Hopies congregated to read mail from home, listen to music and visit before dinner. “When the weather permitted, we looked forward to spreading a blanket out on the deck and watching movies from home in the evening,” says Buddy.

After dinner, they sometimes rode bicycles from port toward the Presidential mansion. Other evenings they would wander around a small waterside building that held discarded statues from the period of French colonization.

“Sometimes we could go to one of the beaches on one of the offshore islands. They were nice and un-crowded and the boat ride out and back was fun,” Buddy says. “The immunization trips were also very interesting. We got to see some of the countryside and extend the HOPE programs further inland from the port in Conakry.”

Because Guinea lacked some amenities they were used to having, a weekend trip to nearby Freetown in Sierra Leone was a treat. They would “explore the town, have a Coca Cola and go to the beach.”

Their last day in Africa as the ship prepared to return to the United States was a stop in Dakar, Senegal, where they spent the day together, which culminated in a romantic dinner at a waterfront restaurant.

“By the time the ship arrived back in the U.S. at the Port of Philadelphia in September of 1965, we both knew we wanted to see each other again,” recalls Buddy.

“After arriving back in the USA, our feelings toward each other had not changed. We were still both dedicated professionals but now had even more in our common experiences that made us more compatible.”

Marilyn had been planning to return to Southern California and Buddy was planning to continue on the next voyage to Nicaragua. “Instead, we compromised and got married and stayed in Richmond, Va.” 

couple served on SS HOPE in Africa

Marilyn and Buddy weren’t the only couples who met on the ship and ended up getting married. They kept in touch with three other couples brought together by the SS HOPE. Throughout the years they have maintained contact with these couples as well as a number of other former ship mates through Project HOPE’s alumni reunions.

The couple, now retired, lives in Fort Myers, Florida, and have continued to travel – to Europe, Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Amazon. When not traveling, they enjoy being officers in a local chapter of a national Italian car club. They also grow key limes, bananas and coconuts.

"Our experience on the ship in Guinea made us feel quite lucky and grateful for what we have here in the USA,” says Buddy. “We were pleased we could do something to help the folks there in some small way. It was great that we could function as health professionals in an area that needed assistance in their delivery of health care, and while we didn’t line our pockets with money in the process, what we received in turn was worth far more in the professional growth. And now, 50 years later, we still have the same feelings and can still enjoy the shared life experiences that began for us in West Africa aboard the SS HOPE.”

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