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"Dr. Bob's Nightmare"
H. S., M.D., of Akron, Ohio.
p. 183 in 1st edition, p. 171 in 2nd,3rd and 4th editions.
In the OM and 1st edition, it was titled "The Doctor's
Dr. Bob and the twelve men and
women whose stories are in this section were among the early members
of A.A.'s first groups. The third edition introduces this section
by saying that they all had passed away of natural causes, having
maintained complete sobriety. But it is known that Marty M. and
Clarence S. were both still living when the third edition was published,
and Marty had a later slip of which perhaps the editors of the third
edition were unaware.
"A co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The birth of our Society dates from his first day of permanent sobriety,
June 10, 1935. To 1950, the year of his death, he carried the A.A.
message to more than 5,000 alcoholic men and women, and to all these
he gave his medical services without thought of charge. In this prodigy
of service, he was well assisted by Sister Ignatia at St. Thomas Hospital
in Akron, Ohio, one of the greatest friends our Fellowship will ever
Dr. Bob met Bill W. and stopped drinking
on Mother's Day, May 12, 1935, but about three weeks later he drank
again while on a trip to attend a medical convention. His last drink
was June 10, 1935, (or perhaps June 17, 1935, according to some sources).
His son, "Smitty," described him as
a very sensitive man, who loved being a doctor, and as "a man's man,"
who was also very courteous, especially to women. "Women felt comfortable
around him, because he so obviously loved my mom." Smitty also describes
him as having a great sense of humor.
He was born on August 8, 1879, St.
Johnsbury, Vermont, about one hundred miles northeast of East Dorset,
where Bill W. was born. He was the only child, of Judge and Mrs. Walter
P. S., who were influential in business and civic affairs. He had
a much older foster sister, Amanda Northrup, of whom he was quite
His parents were pillars of the North
Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury. They insisted Bob go to church
not only on Sunday, several times during the week. He later rebelled
against this and decided he wasn't going into a church again except
for funerals or weddings. And he didn't -- for about forty years.
But the religious education stood him in good stead in future years.
Smitty said his father was one of the few people he knew who had read
the Bible from cover to cover three times.
He entered St. Johnsbury Academy at
fifteen. At a dance during his senior year he met Anne Ripley of Oak
Park, Illinois, a student at Wellesley on holiday with a friend. It
was not a whirlwind marriage. They weren't married until seventeen
years later. He first had to finish his education, and later she may
have been reluctant to marry him because of his drinking.
Except for a secret taste of hard
cider when he was about nine, he didn't drink until he was about nineteen
and attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, described as "the
drinkingest" of the Ivy League schools.
A tattoo he wore the rest of his life
was probably from those days at Dartmouth: a dragon and a compass
tattoo. The dragon wound around his left arm from the shoulder to
the wrist. It was blue with red fire. His son thinks "he had to have
been drunk to have it put there, and you didn't do something that
complicated in a day. When I asked him how he got it, he said, 'Boy,
that was a dandy!' And it must have been, too."
He wanted to be a doctor, but for
some reason his mother opposed it, so he spent the next three years
in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal working. Finally he began studying
medicine, first at the University of Michigan, and then at Rush University
near Chicago. His drinking interfered with his medical education repeatedly,
but he eventually received his medical degree, and secured a coveted
internship at City Hospital in Akron. After his two years internship
he opened an office.
Soon his alcoholism progressed and
he was hospitalized repeatedly. His father sent a doctor to Akron
to take him back to Vermont where he stayed for a few months, then
he returned to his practice, sufficiently frightened that he did not
drink again for some time. During this sober period he married Anne.
During Prohibition he thought it would
be safe to try a little drinking, since it would not be possible,
so he thought, to get large quantities. But it was easy for doctors
to obtain alcohol. He also used sedatives to hide his "jitters." Things
went from bad to worse.
In the late 1920s, he decided that
he wanted to be a surgeon, perhaps because he would be able to control
his schedule more easily in this specialty than he could as a general
practitioner. The patients wouldn't be calling him for help all hours
of the day or night, so they wouldn't catch him when he was drinking.
He went to Rochester, Minnesota, and
studied under the Mayo brothers. He became a rectal surgeon, and did
nothing but surgery for the balance of his life. But Smitty says that
the other doctors knew he was a drunk, so the referrals were scarce
and his practice small. (Despite the financial problems, they were
able to keep the house during the Great Depression because the Federal
Government placed a moratorium on foreclosures.)
When he was introduced to the Oxford
Group he tried hard for three years to follow their program, and did
a lot of study, both of spirituality and of alcoholism. But it wasn't
until Bill Wilson arrived in the spring of 1935 that Dr. Bob found
the kind of help he needed - one alcoholic talking to another.
Smitty describes Bill Wilson as being
the opposite of his dad and both of them were needed for the success
of A.A. He once joked: "If it had been up to my dad, A.A. would never
have spread beyond Akron. Had it been up to Bill, they would have
sold franchises." On another occasion he said: "Bill was garrulous,
Bill was a promoter, Bill was a visionary. I think Bill W. could see
further in the world than anyone I've ever known. My dad wasn't that
way." (Dr. Bob was quiet, cautious, conservative, steady, insistent
on keeping things simple.)
Anne S. died on June 2, 1949. Bill
noted that she was "quite literally, the mother of our first group,
Akron Number One. In the full sense of the word, she was one of the
founders of Alcoholics Anonymous."
Serenely remarking to his attendant,
"I think this is it," Dr. Bob died on November 16, 1950. The funeral
service was held at the old Episcopal Church by Dr. Walter Tunks,
whose answer to a telephone call fifteen years earlier had led to
the meeting between Dr. Bob and Bill W. He was buried at Mt. Peace
Cemetery, next to Anne.
There is no large monument on his
grave. Doctor Bob, who always admonished A.A. to "keep it simple,"
when he heard that friends were planning a monument, remarked "Annie
and I plan to be buried just like other folks." Alcoholics Anonymous
itself is Dr. Bob's monument.