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Dr. Norris' Comments.
YORK, N. Y. FEB 14TH, 1971
Our beloved Bill is dead.
Even as I stand before you and say the words, I cannot really
believe that it is true. In my heart I choose to believe
that Bill is here with us at this very moment. And I somehow
can almost hear him saying in that half-amused, half embarrassed
way of his, "Oh come on now Jack, do you really think
all this fuss is necessary?"
Two weeks ago, at a meeting
of your Board of Trustees, shortly after Bill's passing,
there was a rather lively discussion about a matter involving
the whole fellowship. When it had reached a certain level
of intensity, I found myself waiting to hear Bill speak
up, as he so often did and say those few words that would
put everything in perspective. But he didn't speak. And
it was then that I realized way down deep that we would
never hear his voice again...that we could no longer count
on the constant presence of his wisdom and strength. We
could never again say as we had said so many times before,
"Bill, what do you think?" And I at least, have
not yet come to accept this completely.
Bill was no saint. He was
an alcoholic and a man of stubborn will and purpose. How
else could he have lived through the years of frustration,
failure, and discouragement while the steps, the traditions,
and the conference were being hammered out on the anvil
of hard experience with the first few groups? That he had
the self-honesty, the clarity of vision to see the vital
necessity for the Third Step, and turning one's life and
will over to a Higher Power is just one part of our great
good fortune that Bill lived. I have seen Bill's pride and
I have seen his humility. And I have been present when people
from far countries have met him for the first time and started
to cry. And all Bill - that shy Vermonter - could do was
stand there and look like he wanted to run from the room.
No, Bill was no saint, although many of us wanted to make
him into one. Knowing this, he was insistent that legends
about him be kept to a minimum - that accurate records be
kept so that future generations would know him as a man.
He was a very human person -- to me an exceptionally human
Bill's constant concern
during almost all of the years that I knew him was that
Alcoholics Anonymous should always be available for the
suffering alcoholic--that the mistakes that led to the fading
of previous movements to help alcoholics should be avoided.
To me one measure of his greatness is the clarity of his
vision of the future in his determination to let go of us
long before we were willing to let go of him.
Bill was a good sponsor,
- the wise old timer determined to relinquish the role of
founder because he knew that A.A. must, as he would say,
come of age and take complete responsibility for itself.
He had an abiding faith that our Fellowship not only could,
but should run without him. Repeatedly, during the last
few years, he has said in General Service Conference sessions
"We have nothing to fear." Bill believed that
the wisdom of A.A. came out of church basements and not
from the pulpit; that it was directed from the groups to
the Trustees rather than the other way around. He sometimes
felt, though, when the Conference disagreed with him as
it sometimes did, that its conscience needed to be better
informed, but it was this way that we really shared experience
and developed strength and confidence that the answers would
Bill knew that it was not
one voice that should be heard, but many thousands of voices.
And it was his gift that he was able to listen to them all,
then, out of the noise and confusion discern the group conscience.
Then he would put it all together, the tension of argument
would fade, and everyone would realize that his answer was
right. What Bill's death means to me now is, that all of
us--all of us: you, the delegates, the Trustees--will have
to listen much more carefully than we once did in order
to make out the voice of the group conscience.
And I know that this is
possible. Bill has trained us for it beginning in St. Louis
in 1955. For this was Bill's vision -- to create a channel
of communication within the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous
that would make it possible for everyone to be hear: from
the individual through the group, to the delegates and to
the Trustees, so that A.A. will always be here to extend
a hand to the drunk who is at this very moment crying out
in the darkness of his night as he reaches for help.
In closing, I want to say
that it has been an honor for me to have had this opportunity
to participate with you in giving thanks to God that Bill
lived and was given the wisdom and strength and courage
to make the world a better place for all of us. There are
many more things I could say, but what can one say finally
of a man's goodness and greatness? How many ways can you
take his measure? I cannot do it or say it for any of you
-- only for myself. He was the greatest and wisest man I
ever knew. Above everything, he was a man. And I believe
that he left his goodness and greatness and wisdom with
us, for any of us to take in what measure we can. May God
grant us the wisdom and strength to keep Alcoholics Anonymous
alive, vital, attractive, unencumbered by the egocentricities
that can so easily spoil it.