By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 5

Chapter 5:   HOW IT WORKED 5.4 - Other Publicity
5.1 - The First A.A. Meeting in the World 5.5 - Personal Contact - "Attraction Rather Than Promotion"
5.2 - Summer of '39 5.6 - The Rockefeller Dinner
5.3 - Cleveland Continues to Grow 5.7 - Trials and Tribulations of 1940

Chapter 5.5


Personal Contact - "Attraction Rather Than Promotion"

Certainly we were not in any way psychic or advanced in spiritual growth, but just very ordinary human beings, who had had more suffering and worry than the majority and who had known tragedy after tragedy.

Two Listeners, God Calling (New York; Dodd, Mead & Co., 1945) p. 10

Cleveland, Ohio was a hub of A.A. activity in late 1939. Clarence went about his sales job both in his career as a salesperson and as an A.A. member. Personal contact with prospective members, as well as with those who were attending meetings was what made the membership grow in numbers and in strength of sobriety.

Clarence believed that in order for a prospective member to get well, his entire family had to get well also. Members of the group visited the homes of those who had sent in inquiries arising out of newspaper and radio publicity. A.A.s spoke with the wives and husbands of the alcoholics either prior to, or during their hospitalizations. Family members were invited to attend meetings, were given a copy of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, and were told to read the Upper Room.

Members of the A.A. group shared with the prospective A.A.'s and their families their own personal stories as to how they got well and how A.A. had restored their family life and belief in God. This personal sharing gave hope to newcomers and families that they too, had a chance at a better life.

Clarence went around to the local doctors. Social Workers, lawyers, judges and service organizations such as the Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary. He spoke to all about A.A. and the work the movement was doing in Cleveland. He appeared on local radio stations and spoke about how A.A. was restoring the outcasts of society to the status of productive citizens.

A.A. members roamed the streets and alley ways speaking with drunks, leaving copies of the A.A.'s Big Book with those who showed even the slightest interest in stopping drinking. The A.A.s went into bars and abandoned buildings, seeking out prospective members.

Numerous letters from wives and husbands of alcoholics flooded the Cleveland A.A. post office box after each Letter to the Editor, article, and radio program concerning A.A. Each letter was answered with a phone call and personal visit to homes and offices of writers.

One letter came from a woman in Zanesville, Ohio, and concerned her husband whom she called a "hopeless case." Clarence went to speak with this woman and then with her husband. After Clarence had told each his story and how he had been restored from the ravages of alcoholism, the husband consented to being hospitalized. He was placed in one of the local hospitals and was visited daily by A.A. members who told him their own stories. The man was convinced that he too wanted what they had. He was taken to a meeting upon leaving the hospital and then, in Clarence's terms, was "taken through his Steps."

The man's wife became involved in his recovery and attended meetings with him. She too began to recover, both in attitude and in spiritual reliance on God. In later years, she wrote to Clarence, thanking him for all the efforts he had made in getting her husband better. Clarence responded that it was not he who had restored her husband and their marriage. He responded to her letter of thanks, by giving all of the credit to God and to their commitment to each other and the A.A. movement.

This man never had another drink for the rest of his life and continued to correspond with Clarence, informing him of his A.A. "Birthdays" and of how he too was carrying the message to others.

Another of Clarence's "babies," was Irwin "Irv" M. Irwin was a salesperson who had lost several accounts due to his drinking. He lived on Eddington Road in Cleveland Heights. Clarence had "pulled" Irv out of a bar at the request of Irv's wife and had "convinced" him that he "needed to be fixed." Irv had a difficult time sobering up, but was sold on the idea of A.A. and of helping others.

Irwin sold Venetian Blinds and travelled around the country doing so. Wherever he went, he started A.A. meetings. And Irwin was a high pressure salesperson in and out of A.A.

Irwin was Jewish, weighed 250 pounds, and kept slipping back into active alcoholism. Still, he was a driving force in the early days of A.A. In the book, "DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, Bill Wilson is quoted as saying, "The prospect of Irwin as a missionary scared us rather badly." In a letter to Clarence, dated May 22, 1940, from the Hotel Virginia, in Columbus, Ohio, Irwin wrote, "This is the first trip in one year that I was sober. Thank God." This was the first of many letters that Irwin wrote Clarence in which he told of his "slips," of regaining his sobriety, and of carrying the message by starting meetings.

Irwin, due to his widespread sales territory received constant lists of inquiries from Ruth Hock at the New York A.A. office. Irwin followed up on them with the same gusto he used in his sales pitches. In a letter to Clarence, dated September 18, 1940, he wrote:

You know that list that Miss Hock sent me from New York. Well I Stuck my neck out, because it sure kept me busy, but am beginning to like it now. I contacted two men in Indianapolis and they are starting a group there. I contacted four but 2 stuck, the others were a doctor who wouldn't admit he was alky and another Bozo who could handle it. However I am trying to do my share. I am thankful to providence that I started a few men on the road to health and they are also thankful. That's what makes me feel good.

Irwin, in his travels, also started groups in Atlanta, Georgia and throughout the South. In a letter, dated March 28, 1942, from Knoxville, Tennessee, Irwin's wife wrote to Clarence that "Irwin started another club in Charleston, W. Va." According to a book on A.A.'s history in West Virginia, Fifty Years of Freedom in the Mountain State, "Irwin was recognized as the 'sponsor' of that first Charleston Group."

Personal Sponsorship was another hallmark which came out of Cleveland. Each member and prospective member was indoctrinated with the idea of having and then becoming a sponsor. The idea of sponsorship, as A.A. knows it today, originated in Cleveland.

A.A. members were taken through the steps by their sponsor after being hospitalized for a short period. On their release, they were then taken to meetings and told they were to carry their message of hope to others as an "avocation" without personal monetary gain. In 1943, Clarence wrote a pamphlet on sponsorship which was published by the Cleveland Central Office in 1944. This pamphlet was entitled "A.A. SPONSORSHIP- ITS OPPORTUNITIES and ITS RESPONSIBILITIES" (see appendix D). The pamphlet outlined what a sponsor is and what he or she does. In its conclusion, Clarence wrote, "If you're going to be a a good one!"

Clarence often remarked: "Who wanted to be attracted to a bunch of drunks?" He pushed A.A. down people's throats if he felt that they needed it. He resumed that A.A. saved his life and the lives of countless others. He was always promotion minded.

And in February 1940, what Clarence characterized as one of the biggest promotions to that date took place in New York City.

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