Cleveland Begins to Come of
Ideas do have legs, and they
travel fast and far, for they need no ships to cross the seas!
Indeed they move with such speed that the idea conceived and
born by the passion of one heart can shape and change the lives
of millions, leading great nations on to destruction or destiny...
Peter Howard, Ideas Have
Legs (Coward, McCann, Inc. 1946)
after Bill H. came into the Oxford Group, Clarence began to
experience some success in his life. Success not only in carrying
the message of recovery as an avocation, but success in something
equally as important. Finding employment.
back, when Clarence was still in the finance business, he had
worked with numerous automobile dealerships. Many of whom he
had helped to stay in business through some the worst years
of the Depression. One of these car dealerships was the E.D.
LATIMER & Company. Mr. Latimer had surmised that Clarence
had all of the innate qualities for and had what it took to
be a super salesperson.
Clarence approached Mr. Latimer about a position, Latimer hired
him on the spot. Latimer didn't ask about where Clarence had
been working prior to that time, where he had been or what he
had been, doing the previous couple of years.
amazingly short period of time, and much to Mr. Latimer's delight,
Clarence began bringing in customers faster, and with more success
than any of the other salespeople. Past or present, regardless
of experience. Clarence had taken all of the old sales and service
records from his predecessors and organized a massive list of
all of the people who hadn't brought their cars in for service.
Or had never brought them in at all. He also compiled a list
of all of the customers, past and present, who were due to purchase
a new car.
these lists, Clarence routed out his course. He arranged his
schedule around the locations. He got into his new, demonstrator
car and visited each and every one of them personally. He did
this mostly in the evenings to help insure that, not only the
customer, but his entire family would be present.
only one evening free. Wednesday evening was set aside for Clarence's
Oxford Group meetings in Akron. In the fifteen months during
which he attended Wednesday night meetings at T. Henry and Clarace
Williams' home, Clarence may have missed only one or two.
was very shrewd in his sales practices. He showed a lot of concern.
Yet he often berated his potential customers. He usually did
this in front of their families where this practice had the
most impact. He scolded these customers, often telling them,
"You are not taking care of your investment."
a reputation throughout the greater Cleveland area for really
caring for his customers and taking a personal interest in them.
"He," many said, "cared so much that he went personally to visit
with them at their homes." This practice was something unheard
of for an automobile salesperson.
LATIMER was touted as being "Ohio's Largest Ford and Mercury
Dealer," and advertised, "You can always do business with `LATIMER'."
But Personal care had never been Latimer's strongest selling
point. Never, that is, until Clarence began working there. People
came in droves to see Clarence at the dealership. Car owners,
families, friends, even "rummies." For Clarence not only sold
Fords and Mercuries, he "sold" sobriety and the Oxford Group.
And Mr. Latimer didn't care what else Clarence sold, as long
as Clarence was selling cars in the volume that he did.
not one, but two, demonstrator cars at his disposal and in his
possession. One Ford and one Mercury. This special treatment
was unheard of in those days. Usually even the best salesperson
got just one demonstrator car for his personal use.
often said, "Now kids, think about this. Think about Divine
Providence." After being "on the bum," with no home, no money
to speak of, no job, his marriage down the tubes, Clarence had
been introduced to a doctor who later turned out to be one of
the founders of A.A. He had been introduced to this doctor indirectly
through another doctor, who not only lived over four hundred
miles away, but who "just happened" to be the brother-in-law
of the other co-founder-to-be of A.A. The doctor in Akron got
him "fixed." Clarence got his relationship with his wife back
and was living back in his home. He was earning a good salary
(twenty dollars a week draw on commission). Even more important,
he had two cars that were always at his disposal. These cars
were used every Wednesday night to ferry alcoholics back and
forth to the meetings of the Oxford Group in Akron, Ohio.
just doesn't happen to ordinary people." As Clarence stated
shaking his head as he thought of the incredible events that
happened in his life.
of Clarence's cars began rapidly to fill up with "rummies":
Clarence, Dorothy, George McD., John D., Lee L., Charlie J.,
Vaughn P., Clarence W., Bill H., Kay H., Sylvia K., Ed M., Lloyd
T., assorted wives, husbands, and other family members. All
drove to Akron on a weekly basis. The "Cleveland Contingent,"
as they were called, hardly ever missed a Wednesday night meeting.
they did miss a meeting, it was due to extremely hazardous driving
conditions which had been produced by inclement weather. The
Cleveland Contingent stayed home, only after praying and receiving
"guidance" about traveling that particular night.
K. was one of the "babies" of Clarence and Dorothy." After living
with them for a while, Sylvia returned to her native Chicago,
and helped start A.A. there. Her story, "The Keys Of The
Kingdom," is in the Second and Third Edition of the Big
was one of the few people who were instrumental in helping to
bring women into A.A. He argued strongly for their inclusion
into the Fellowship when they were often unwelcome. Many of
the older, male members of A.A. felt about women that "they
were nothing but trouble. Even Bill and Bob were scared of `em
and the trouble they often caused with the old bucks," said
V.H., in a letter to Clarence, written January 7, 1951, made
reference to the problems with women, even wives. Bill wrote,
"You remember Roland and his good looking wife at King School
don't you? Don't get too excited..." King School was the location
of the first meeting in Akron that followed the alcoholics break-off
from the Oxford Group. The break occurred after the original
book had been published in April of 1939 (according to the United
States Copyright Office, the actual publication date was April
late 1930's, most of the members of the Cleveland Contingent
were Irish and belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. Clarence
remembered, they were "getting a hard time of things with the
Church." The problem, as Clarence remembered, was the Church's
concern with the tenets and teachings of the Oxford Group -
essentially a Protestant, Evangelical fellowship.
early A.A. meetings, leaders read aloud from the King James
Version of the Bible. They "witnessed" and confessed their
sins openly, one to another. Clarence said this did not "sit
too well with the Catholic Church." On numerous occasions, Clarence
had to sit down and meet with Roman Catholic alcoholics and
the hierarchy of their Church to explain to them that alcoholics
were not intentionally violating the Church's teachings.
telling Roman Catholic alcoholics and the Church hierarchy that
the groups were, instead, helping these members of the Church,
who, due to their excessive drinking, had become non-productive
members of society. Outcasts as it were. He remembered explaining
that they, the "alcoholic squad" of the Oxford Group, were working
with these drunkards and, through this life-changing program,
this "First Century Christian Fellowship," were turning them
into "good Catholics." Good Roman Catholic, and productive and
income-earning citizens. He also pointed out that many a marriage
was being salvaged, thereby keeping members of the Church from
getting divorced and risking excommunication. "The Church didn't
buy this line, not one bit," said Clarence.
remembered that the problems with the Church grew in direct
proportion to the ever-growing numbers of people in the Oxford
Group from the Cleveland Contingent. Clarence often spoke with
his "sponsor," Doc, about this increasing dilemma.
to Clarence, the Roman Catholic members were being warned by
their Church not to attend the Oxford Group meetings. No matter
how hard Clarence begged, pleaded, and cajoled church leaders,
he could not dissuade them. The Church officials, as Clarence
remembered, were threatening the newly "fixed rummies" with
excommunication. The "rummies" felt this was putting in jeopardy
not only their spiritual lives, but also their continued physical
problem as Clarence saw it, was that if the alcoholics left
the Oxford Group, they stood a strong chance of returning to
their alcoholic drinking. Then, to eventual insanity or death.
On the other hand, if they stayed with the Oxford Group and
maintained their new found sobriety, they would surely be excommunicated
from their Church. Then, they resumed, according to their beliefs,
they would lose all hope of ever going to Heaven when they died,
or even of having a personal contact with God. A personal contact,
which, the Oxford Group stressed, was their only means of maintaining
Catholic alcoholics were thus in a double bind. Stay with the
Oxford Group and be denied the Kingdom of Heaven, or leave the
group and be denied their new found sobriety. The sobriety,
which, in fact, had returned them to their God after years of
alcoholic Hell. No matter which way they turned, Clarence felt,
they were lost. And they turned to Clarence for help. This placed
him in an equally and confusing dilemma.
very stringent and outspoken in his loyalty to the Oxford Group.
Mostly because the Oxford Group had saved his life, Clarence's
life and the lives of all the other "rummies." Not to mention
the restoration of all to their families, homes, jobs, and to
new lives made out of old discards. Doc felt that since there
was nothing else to offer these alcoholics that differed in
any way from what they now had in the Oxford Group, he could
offer Clarence no solution. No solution other than to keep talking
with the Church officials in an effort to change their minds
and hearts. "Otherwise," Doc told Clarence, "if the Church did
not change their minds, the men had but two choices. Remain
with the Oxford Group and probably risk excommunication, or
very simply, leave the Church."
of those choices was acceptable to Clarence or to the Roman
Catholic members. But Clarence could not offer any alternative
choice to them. He was, himself, in a major bind. He felt he
had to listen to his "sponsor," the man who had saved his life.
He also felt that he needed to pray daily, incessantly, for
"guidance" concerning what should be done about this problem.
in the following months produced what was eventually to be another
choice - a choice that Clarence and the Cleveland Contingent
had been praying for. A series of events, Divine Providence,
that none of them had any idea existed.
choice produced the beginnings of a program of recovery. A program
that was similar to that of the Oxford Group, yet very different.
An option that would be open to all who still suffered from
alcoholism. A choice that would eventually become known around
the world as Alcoholics Anonymous. A fellowship for, and by,
those who had an honest desire to quit drinking.