Nancy Moyer Olson, In Memoriam (continued)
After the Chicago period, Nancy went to the west coast, to California, and became an actress at the Pasadena Playhouse, performing under her maiden name, as Nancy Moyer, because there was already a famous movie actress named Nancy Olson. She remembered working with the young Dustin Hoffman, long before he became a movie star. With Nancy's blonde good looks, her agent attempted to get her into the movies herself as "the new Grace Kelley," but this was not to be.
Nancy then spent a while traveling the Caribbean with a British banker. Her drinking was beginning to cause problems by the end of this period in her life.
In 1965, when she was around thirty-six, she came into the A.A. program. Working to help alcoholics was going to become the great theme of the rest of her life.
The golden apple stood for something important to Nancy when she first
came into A.A. in 1965 (notice the small gold pin shaped like an apple which
she was wearing on her dress in the photo of her with Senator Williams below).
It reminded her continually of the way in which the people in the A.A.
fellowship had loved her until she was able to love herself.
Nancy was back in Chicago in August of 1968, serving as a volunteer for the Democratic National Committee at the Democratic National Convention. There she met, for the first time, Senator Harold Hughes from Iowa, like herself a recovered alcoholic and devoted A.A. member. She went to Washington D.C. to work for Senator Hughes, first as a volunteer. Then in 1969, he appointed her to the staff of the newly created Special Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics and she served as an aide on Hughes’ staff until he left the Senate in 1975.
Nancy Olson and Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa
Working with the senator, Mrs. Marty Mann (with whom she became close friends), and a number of other national figures who were recovered alcoholics and A.A. members, Nancy helped get the Hughes Act passed through the U.S. Congress (President Nixon was finally cajoled into signing it into law in a document dated on New Year's Eve, 1970), and then helped shepherd it through the following years, when Congress had to vote on financing it and appointing people to run some of the programs it set up. The Hughes Act was going to totally change the way alcoholics were treated under United States law, in ways which still help alcoholics in this country today.
Because of the many alcoholics and their families who contacted Hughes’ office for help, she and the Senator also in effect ran the first, albeit informal, Employee Assistance Program for Members of Congress, their families, and their staffs. They also counseled many high-ranking government and military personnel, and on numerous occasions even strangers who walked in off the street.
When Senator Hughes decided to go into full time Christian work, and not to run for a second term in the Senate, Nancy was re-appointed to the staff in 1975 by Senator Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey, and thus also was involved in drafting the 1976 and 1979 amendments to the Hughes Act. During this period she also had primary staff responsibility for congressional oversight of the activities of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Nancy Olson and Senator Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president, and many new senators and representatives were swept into office on his coat tails. This, coupled with congressmen who simply wished to retire, or were forced out of office for other reasons, left Nancy (in her estimation) without enough support in congress to continue her work effectively. In addition, many of the most powerful lobbyists and political activists for the alcohol industry and its various organizations (representing all the various American companies and corporations which produced wine, beer, or hard liquor) had now decided to try to drive her out, after she was forced by political circumstances to support a law requiring warning labels on bottles of alcoholic beverages. Even if she could have withstood their unrelenting attacks, it would have taken years to build up an effective political base again. She was 51, and she was tired and discouraged with politics by that time.
She decided to become a nun, and entered a monastery of the Visitation of Holy Mary to devote herself to prayer and meditation. She had developed severe problems with her legs however, in what may have been an attack of multiple sclerosis, and found herself unable to cope with the physical demands of life in the monastery. There were jobs that had to be done there which required standing for long periods of time. She was given the task at one point, for example, of scrubbing the floor of a cloister every day, which was used as a nesting place by numerous pigeons. Convents and monasteries have special ways of developing humility among novices!
Nancy was hobbling along painfully and slowly on crutches when she visited a shrine in Europe famous for its healing miracles. As she was leaving, a priest told her calmly, pointing to her crutches, "You won't need those any more." She set them down, and to her surprise, was able to walk once again without crutches. Her legs remained weak however, and for the rest of her life, if forced to stand for too long, her legs would simply collapse under her.
It was clear that living in the monastery was going to be beyond her physical capacity, so in 1982 she returned to secular life in Washington where she worked as a very successful legislative analyst and lobbyist until her retirement in 1995.
Feminist leader Susan B. Anthony III (left)
and Nancy Olson (right)
Nancy returned to Kingston, Pennsylvania, the little town where she had been born and brought up, but within a few months got bored and frustrated with nothing to do. So she responded immediately in 1996 when Senator Harold Hughes, shortly before his death, asked her to write a book telling the story of what they and their friends had done to try to help the plight of alcoholics in the United States. She quickly put together a large amount of material, part of it still only very loosely organized at that stage, and began looking for a publisher over the next several years.
She was still trying to find a publisher when, in March of 2000, she decided (just out of her own personal interest in the subject) to start a small web group which she originally called the AAHistoryBuffs. The name of the group was later changed to the AAHistoryLovers. To her surprise, people all over the world began joining the group, and it soon turned into one of the best and most dependable sites on the internet for obtaining good knowledge about A.A. history. There are now well over a thousand members from all around the globe.
In March of 2002, she at last found a publisher and editor for her writing project, and began doing the final organization and revision of the marvelous book which will endure as probably the greatest monument to her life and devotion to helping her fellow alcoholics. It came out in the Spring of 2003: With a Lot of Help from Our Friends: The Politics of Alcoholism. The United States Surgeon General's Office, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the Smithers Foundation, and other major groups immediately began hailing it as the best and most useful work they had ever encountered for understanding U.S. national policies on alcoholism and how they had been developed. The material on the back cover of the book does a job of describing what her work accomplished:
"Olson's book, With a Lot of Help from Our Friends, tells the inside story of government attempts to deal with the American alcohol problem from 1970 to 1980, the most important decade in the history of alcohol legislation since Prohibition, with the famous Hughes Act as its centerpiece. We meet the friends and supporters of Harold Hughes, the charismatic senator and former governor from Iowa, and Marty Mann, the beloved 'first lady of Alcoholics Anonymous.'
"The author, herself a major participant in these events, describes the struggles and triumphs of this small band of recovered alcoholics and their friends as they bared their souls before congressional hearings and succeeded in convincing a Congress and three reluctant Presidents to support this effort."
And following this, there are (on the back cover and at the front of the book) a number of praiseworthy reviews by various scholars, historians, and experts on alcoholism treatment, many of them extremely well-known (see
With a Lot of Help from Our Friends).|
Ernest Kurtz (author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous), Robin Room (Professor and Director of the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs, Stockholm University, Sweden), Ernest P. Noble, Ph.D., M.D. (Director of the UCLA Alcohol Center and former Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), Sally and David R. Brown (authors of The Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous), William L. White (author of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America), Glenn F. Chesnut (Professor of History, Indiana University, author of The Higher Power of the Twelve-Step Program: For Believers & Non-Believers, who was the editor of Nancy's book), Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D. (founder and medical director of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh and author of the best-selling Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception), and Joseph Zuska, M.D. (founder of the Navy's first alcoholism treatment center at Long Beach, California, later made famous by Betty Ford, wife of President Ford).|
It is not only extremely thorough but also very well-written, and was recognized from the beginning as a book which was going to become a real classic in its field.
Sadly, Nancy's plans for further research and writing were halted within a month or two of the time the book came out, by a series of small silent heart attacks, which left her heart gravely weakened, and made it hard to concentrate on difficult tasks. She moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to be closer to her family, and in July 2004 she had to be hospitalized with congestive heart failure. When the doctors released her, they told her that she only had a few months to live.
Nancy nevertheless got great pleasure all the way to the end of her life from speaking to various groups in New York City, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and -- one of the great thrills of her life -- the A.A. history conference in Bristol, England, where she was able to show people a pre-publication copy of her book.