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Bill W., General Service Conference, 1960
is the 25th anniversary year of our fellowship, it is the
22nd year of our Trusteeship and it is the 10th year of
this Conference on which so much of our destiny depends.
I wish I had the capability to communicate to you what these
25 years have meant to us to Lois and me, what
the Trusteeship has meant, what the labors and the demonstrations
of this Conference has meant. But I really cant do
that. I can just make a stab at it.
a time like this, before thinking about today or tomorrow,
old-timers like Lois and me think about the past.
think a key word, by which you might convey some little
part of what has happened, might be the word "communication"
now coming so much into the forefront of our
you think about it, A.A. is a unique means of communication.
Our lives have depended on communication. Our unity depends
on communication. Our functioning depends on communication.
had lunch with Father Kennedy who asked me to speak at a
lunch of the Clergy Conference on Alcoholism, and he said
that questions might be asked there. After all, the Church
has this tremendous spiritual base, but here is this Society
which says that it has a spiritual basis. "Why hasnt
the Church done this with its resources?" He said that
question might come up. And I said, "I think the answer,
Father, is very simple. The church has the spirituality,
but in the case of us drunks, it didnt have the communication
to pave the way, one alcoholic to the next, for the Grace
to descend. So you have the spirituality, so of which we
have borrowed. And we fellows have the communication, so
therefore we are in no competition at all; we can do together
that which we cannot do in separation."
everything is hung on this business of communication. And
I can think back to a time when there was virtually none.
Lois and I were isolated, and drawing further apart, each
in retreat - no communication. Dr. Silkworth makes a communication;
it takes some hold on us, first of hope, thenhappilyof
sponsor sits across the kitchen table - on which there was
no coffee; in those days it was gin. And then the unique
communication starts: one drunk talking to another.
it has been. It has been a story of communication. Well,
this Conference is a great network of communication. And
as the time approached I tried to visualize how firmly this
effort is beginning to rest on a base composed literally
of thousands of interested people, trusted servants, working
at the business of functioning worldwide: thousands of GSR5,
hundreds of committeemen, you Delegates. I tried to imagine
you going about your appointed tasks in the year past.
have you been saying, what have you been feeling, what have
you been doing? How many thousands of miles have you traveled?
How many manand, yes, woman hours - have you put in
so that this meeting might be yet another success, our tenth?
first of all, on behalf of A.A. worldwide, and all of us
who work here in the headquarters, and especially for Lois
and me, our warmest affection, our deepest thanks for all
that has been done to bring us together at this fine hour.
(Bill introduces Lois)
can say that the progress of this Third Legacy idea, the
growing knowledge, the growing sense of responsibility throughout
A.A. is really more rapid than was the adoption of the Traditions,
which has now become so firmly imbedded and so cast in iron
that, indeed, we have a class of gentlemen whom I call the
"Tradition Lawyer," whose construction of the
Traditions is so strict that I hardly know them sometimes.
now come to the topic of this Trusteeship of ours and how
it happened. And in a way it was the first great and momentous
change in our affairs. In those days, 1938 to be exact,
A.A. was a matter of coffee and cake; it was a time of halcyon
simplicity and we were almost a secret society. There was
no public relations, nothing of that kind. But we began
to see, a few of us, that we would have to get into the
communication business in a big way.
of all, how was this message to be transferred from us very
few to the millions of drunks who surrounded us, some within
gunshot? Well, that meant publicity, and there was the question
of literature; this message could be very seriously garbled.
There had to be literature. Somehow the experience of the
few groups had to be transmitted to the new ones forming.
it meant that we had to have here in the middle of A.A.
an overall service project that could do for A.A. what the
groups or areas couldnt do for themselves. And this
was the beginning of our Trusteeship.
our friends, the non- alcoholics, have done for this Society
is beyond anybodys estimate. And of course, my mind
goes back to those first few, and now it turns to their
successors-we have two of them here tonight... (Introduction
of Dr. Norris and Dr. Tiebout)
first friends filled a dire and critical need.
are in yet an era of change. Our Twelve Steps probably wont
change, the Traditions, not at all likely. But our manner
of communications, our manner of organizing ourselves for
function or service-let us hope that this goes on changing
for the better, forever.
is a very natural resistance we have toward change. We are
apt to say, "Well, it worked very well the way it was,
so why change?" But, after all, we have undertaken
several tremendous changes.
will remember that in the very early days, people said:
Well, why a self appointed Trusteeship? Later, people said,
Why a book? and now, in 1960, very many people say, Why
I cite that to show that, on good evidence, with the need
clearly in sight, we are indeed ready to make all kinds
of change. Not that any great changes are in prospect, but
I think that we ought to stay open-minded on this matter
reverence the past and its lessons for so long as those
teachers work. When they dont, we readapt and we reshape.
That has been our history. The lessons of the past, however,
are something that we ought to preserve. Sometimes we go
to the other tack, throwing out the baby with the bath water,
ignoring the lessons of the past. And for these reasons,
that we might want to change and that we must also understand
the past and its lessons in connection with this Service
Conference. I have been trying to do a set of interpretive
essays, or rather articles and have cast up, God forbid,
almost a new batch of points, or better called, Twelve Concepts
for World Service.
will remember that our Third Legacy manual, except for its
little historical sketch, is a manual of procedure. It tells
you the "how" - how do we serve as group representatives,
as committeemen, as Delegate, Trustees, Directors, Staffs
and so on. Now these essays would attempt, on the basis
of the lessons of the past of our history, to show the "why."
How did we happen to get related together in this way? And
what have been the lessons? There are a few suggestions
for change in these points. And of course the basic thing
to remember is that we began to function here, in these
Services, almost exactly as a group started to function.
was a little meeting in Akron in 1937 and Dr. Bob and I
proposed to create something to provide an overall service.
So we got authorization. In other words the small group
conscience of that meeting of 18 by a majority of about
one, incidentallyasked me to come back to New York,
as at least a fairly trusted servant, to start this jump.
Dr. Bob and I had all of the authority, and all of the responsibility
there was, to create a service structure. And, Dr. Bob being
in Akron, and since it was thought that the money we needed,
the great funds we needed, would be here in New York, he
sort of turned over that part of it to me. So, just for
a moment, I had all of the ultimate authority and all of
the immediate authority and all of the responsibility to
set this thing in motion. But of course, it was instantly
realized that I couldnt do this by myself; I had to
first of all, we began to get together with some friends,
some non-alcoholics, people who could take a money interest
in us, people who could relate us to the world outside,
people who could insure the Trusteeship in case we got drunk
and started to drink the money up. We needed friends and
we needed them very badly. So, very much like an A.A. group,
this thing started with an originator and his friendsa
hierarchy of service composed at first of this informal
committee, along with Dr. Bob and me, to spark this thing.
pretty soon it was realized that if we were going to get
up any money, we had to be organized; there had to be a
bank account; an informal committee wouldnt do. So
we formed a Trusteeship which first started off as merely
an agreement by people to be Trustees for A.A. Indeed, the
old trusteeship took in everything except lobbying for prohibition.
So this became a formalized body of Trustees, since actually
came the problem of what will we do for money, and none
was forthcoming, so we raised money, mostly around here,
and got the book together with a great struggle. Well, at
first the book belonged to the people who had contributed
and for my work I had a third and we had another promotion
fellow around here with a third and we realize that this
book couldnt be the property of us. So after a while
we said, well, this trusteeship can hold this book. So the
book began to sell slowly and some money came in so they
became the trustees for this money and pretty soon we began
to get some publicity, and in came some inquiries, and we
had to have an office, so the money coming in was spent
to rent an office and the Trustees became managers of the
was just sitting in my now large office and looking at a
table over in the corner. Its a kind of an antique;
they insisted it be painted; I dont know why. That
affronted me because this was the table from which the first
A.A. book was shippedand it then sat in a little room
about 20 feet square. And that was exactly 20 years ago
down in Vesey Street, N.Y. City.
we have a book and we have an office and we have a paid
worker and we have a board of trustees. In other words,
here are the two founders and a hierarchy of service. But
all the time I find that I must delegate my original authority.
So now the trustees have our funds, they have our book,
they have the management of the office because of the way
of delegationeven though I had an ultimate authority,
and at first all of it-to make it function, I had to hand
progressively Dr. Bob and I turned our service function
over to the board of trustees. Well, the office grew, and
its function grew and pretty soon we had terrific publicity-the
Saturday Post piece-thousand of inquiries came in. And the
book sales wouldnt pay the help in the office so we
came to the movement and said: wont you give us some
help? So those contributions began to come in from the groups
on the express idea that they would be trusted for just
office purposes only, which they still are. So then the
trustees came into possession of the group contributions.
And in some years wed save some book money and that
was put into a separate fund which today has grown into
a sort of a reserve.
by this time we began to have a tremendous public relations
problem, a very ticklish one. And we had all sorts of enthusiastic
and somewhat self-appointed public relations agents through
out the country. Some wished to sell insurance in connection
with A. A., and others, shaving soap... It was getting pretty...
well, it was like an anarchy, you know. There had to be
some head or tail to it so we write the group and say, well,
here is this body of friends, the non-alcoholics are in
a majorityyoure safe, boysso, youve
entrusted your money, your office, your bookwhy dont
you entrust this body with your public relations?
after a while, just like the book was separately set up,
so was the Grapevine. A bunch of enthusiasts got together
here. There were a lot of other fine sheets around the country
but this one seemed to gain in circulation and it got to
have a national subscription list. Finally they got tired
of licking the stamps so the volunteers came and said, well,
wont the trustees take this thing on? So that is how
the Trusteeship grew.
1950, it was just like an A.A. group, this whole movement,
so far as services go, being run by a pair of founders and
their friends in this incorporated trusteeship. Well, by
then we realized that this couldnt just go on forever.
The ghastly open end that we then faced was that the linkage
between this more and more unknown board of trustees, naming
their successors, and the movement was getting thinner and
thinner. It really depended very largely upon Dr. Bob and
me and a couple of gals in the office. And we were the only
ones who had began to have a world connection with A.A.
Meanwhile this thing just grew like mad and it got more
and more and more frightening.
then came the day when it was discovered that Dr. Bob was
fatally ill. And we suddenly realized that founders are
perishable. So if the linkage went out and if the board
pulled one good boner some day, this would be the end of
it. There would be no means of reinstating. Well, I suppose
it was the most hazardous change that we have ever undertaken,
the formation of this Conference.
society wasnt so mature as it is today. Our fears
were far greater. Consequently, the business of running
clubs and hospital plans and even handling group matters
had been awfully chaotic. So, rightly a great many people
said, My God, Delegates from every state of the union and
committeemen and group representativesthis will be
a political chaos.
finally the day had to come when we had to take the risk
of finding whether this would be political chaos or whether,
in silence we would let people feel that things were fine
just the way they were.
then the old timers would pass from the scene, and then
collapse. In other words we had to choose between the two
risks: the one of almost certain collapse later on, the
other, the tremendous gamble of bringing the Conference
Im so glad the decision to change was taken. And this
ushered in a whole new era in our affairs and began to put
them, service wise, upon a sound and permanent base. And
this involved just really, the replacement of Dr. Bob and
me, you people have come to stand in our shoes. You have
become the linkage between our trusteeship and the movement.
And you in turn, through the committee, thanks to the GSRs
and out into the groups.
we took the risk, and you people showed us that it wasnt
a very big one because the success of this thing has exceeded
our wildest imagination. Therefore, we enter this 25th year,
stepping across one more threshold into the future.
does the future hold for us? What may its perils be like?
How can we strengthen ourselves against the time of perilto
put it negatively. To put it positively, how can we increase
our communication with the sea of drunks around us? I realize
that while, on behalf of all, I have been saying nice things
about us, congratulating us upon our successes so far, we
ought never neglect to soberly reflect that this society
has made only the smallest scratch on the total problem
of alcoholism. Weve got a couple of new books coming
out, by the way. The Family Groups also have one. This adds
to the communication in their field. Weve got one
coming out, A.A. Today, by the Grapevine. Nice advance sale.
in that book I discuss this matter of communication, not
only on the basis of what we have so providentially been
able to accomplish but also on the basis of what we havent
been able to do.
I took note of the fact that in this generation which has
seen A.A. come alive, this period of 25 years, a vast procession
of the worlds drunks have passed in front of us and
have gone over the precipice. And based on figures I was
careful to get, it looks like, worldwide, there was something
like 25 million of them. And out of that stream of despair,
illness, misery and deathwe fished out just one in
a hundred in the last 25 years. I think were fishing
somewhat bigger and better.
then, is it not a very good question, and isnt this
question closely related to the future of this Conference.
This Conference is here to preserve what weve got
in full measure but how much more shall we need in the way
of communication with this procession? How are we going
to reach them, how are we going to make them want to approach
us? This problem is our single greatest problem. Now it
is quite true that those who are just entering on this fateful
path cant be reached. Theyre young, they say:
It couldnt be me. Youth doesnt like to be defeated.
And then they come into the area where perhaps they could
be reached. And theyre in there for a while. And then
they pass beyond A.A. So how can we walk into this stream
and draw more out of it.
it is by better communication. Now this means bigger and
better public relations. It means a vast increase in the
friends of this society in all the media of communications.
What they have already done for us is beyond estimate, but
this is still only a beginning. How can we first reach them
more effectively and they, in turn, this melancholy and
ever-flowing stream? Thats a poser. I dont know
must also remember that a great many of these condemned
passers by are not amenable perhaps to Alcoholics Anonymous.
So therefore I think we ought to begin to stretch a point.
We ought to cast aside some of our early fears, however
justified they were at the time and try to increase our
friendly cooperation with whomever and whatever is trying
to tackle this field, whether we agree with their methods
or we dont. A lot of people are trying in different
ways to make a dent on this huge problem.
has now become so solid in its unity, the adherence to our
tradition is so astonishing, when you stop to think of the
power driver like me who would like to bust loose at the
public level, beat the tub, feather the nest and all that
sort of thing. The woods are full of them, Im just
one, Im a champ. A.A. is full of these peopleand
yet, the conformity to these traditions is beyond belief.
It isnt just a matter of self preservation; its
the spirit of A.A. that makes this possible. Now all of
this has grown up in the last decade so that our fears of
what the mistakes that other people in other efforts make,
as they might affect us, I think today are far overdone.
There was a time when we had reason to be afraid but I dont
think so anymore.
I think we can go a little overboard on the friendly side
because these people are in touch with drunks who may approach
them but wont approach us.
therefore we need friendliness with every possible outlet
and contact with the passing stream of misery. In other
words, its a problem all around of better communication.
That is looking outward upon the world in which we live
and it is looking forward, I think, too, that we can look
to ourselves. Our numbers are considerable. We have size.
There is a great security in numbers. You cant imagine
how it was in the very early first two or three years of
this thing when nobody was sure that anybody could stay
sober. . . Then we were like the people on Eddie Rickenbackers
raft. Boy, anybody rock that raft, even a little, and he
was sure to be clobbered, thats all, and then thrown
overboard. But today its a very different story.
however, with the big security in numbers, there has come
a certain amount of liability. The more people there are
to do a job, it often turns out, the less there are. In
other words, whats everybodys business is nobodys
doctor came into the office the other day from a foreign
land where A.A. is flourishing and doing darn well by any
estimate. He said that he referred a great many people to
A.A. but that the turnover seemed to him unnecessarily large
and that he had discovered that repeatedly people would
come and say, Yes, I went over to A.A., I went to X number
of meetings; well, it didnt work for me.
said the doctor, of course the fellow really didnt
try hard enough. But it seems to me there were other things
needing. Somehow or other this fellow did not make friends
over there. Now, he wasnt a psychopath. Maybe it was
because nobody went out of their way to make friends with
of these people came back, never having heard that Alcoholics
Anonymous had Twelve Steps. They heard some drunk stories.
They saw that people were sober.
this question of sponsorship, which isnt just a question
of a couple of visits and now youre in the group,
boysthis question of loving friendship is a part of
size is bound to bring complacency unless we get increasingly
aware of what s going on. So this Conference, at least
we who are soon to pass of f the scene believe, will be
the inspiration that can overcome complacency. It will have
the genius, and out of it will come a better communication
with our friends and through every possible medium to an
increasing segment of the people we have to reach.
have a profound confidence in the future of this Conference
as an instrument guaranteeing our unity and our functioning.
Im not too good an A.A. in the spiritual sense. .
.Most of my life in the past fifteen or so years has been
an effort to figure out, God knows with plenty of help,
how this top function can be anchored to this movement,
how to keep the cupola on the old A.A. barn so she just
cant blow off. So I m looking to you and these
other Conferences, you and your successors to keep that
cupola there. Yes, 25 years. Our trusteeship is 22 years
old and you are 10 years old. And, my friends, the future
belongs to you.