| print this
J. R., My Hero
R. is one of my heroes, one who, following his recovery
from alcoholism, made a significant contribution to the
field of alcoholism.
was born and raised in the Buffalo, New York, area, and
graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1933. In 1934,
he went to work for the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C.
a career that would span the next forty years.
arrived in D.C. in the early days of President Franklin
Roosevelt's New Deal. He first worked for the Committee
on Economic Security, then for the Works Program Administration
(WPA). When World War II began Matt moved to the War Production
Board, and at the end of the war went to Japan for five
years working on economic aid to that country.
the 1950's Matt's drinking caused him to lose his government
job and he started a business venture which failed because
of his drinking.
in 1958, Matt entered AA and began his recovery from alcoholism.
He returned to government service with the Census Bureau.
After several moves to other government jobs, Matt began
working for the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), part
of President Johnson's War on Poverty.
is where he was working when I first met him and his wife,
Christine, in 1967. He immediately impressed me as a modest,
gentle, humble person, one not eager for the spotlight,
but content to work quietly and let others take the credit.
had a shock of white hair, and a kind face which showed
that he was one who had known suffering. When he spoke at
AA meetings, which was rarely, he simply shared his experience,
strength and hope, never mentioning his many contributions
to the field of alcoholism.
after Senator Harold Hughes entered the Senate in 1969,
Matt visited him and told him that the OEO authorizing legislation
would soon come up for renewal in the Senate, and said he
thought it would be a good idea if Hughes tried to amend
the bill -- which was in the Committee on Labor and Public
Welfare on which Hughes served -- to earmark funds for alcoholism.
was brave of Matt. It could have cost him his job. The Nixon
Administration was adamant that no federal employees, except
official lobbyists for the government, could visit Capitol
Hill to try to influence legislation.
liked Matt's idea, and took it to Senator Gaylord Nelson
of Wisconsin, who chaired the Employment, Manpower and Poverty
Subcommittee, on which Hughes also served, and which had
jurisdiction over the OEO bill.
Rose Amendment -- as I like to call it -- to the OEO bill
was part of the package reported from the committee to the
full Senate. During the October 14, 1969, debate on the
bill, Chairman Yarborough described it like this:
President, another significant outcome of our study of the
OEO program is the recommendation that a new national program
of alcoholism counseling and recovery be undertaken in conjunction
with the war on poverty. Small authorizations of $10 million
in 1970 and $15 million in 1971 are included to get this
effort underway. Such an addition is necessary if the assistance
provided through the other programs is to have any effect
on those families suffering the ravaging effects of alcoholism.
It is clear that a worker, a housewife, a family cannot
fully benefit from services provided by OEO or community
agencies if each step forward is to be canceled out by debilitating
effects of alcoholism or problem drinking."
amendment passed the Senate during the brief period when
I was still a volunteer on Hughes's staff and holding down
another full-time job. But when I was appointed to the staff
of the Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics a few weeks
later, Matt came to my office and gave me a full briefing
on the OEO legislation. When I later thanked him, and told
him how helpful the briefing had been, Matt smiled gently
and replied: "I believe in educating my friends."
R. had responsibility for the earmarked alcoholism funds
at OEO and he put them to good use. When President Nixon
abolished OEO, almost 200 grants serving residents of low
income areas, American Indians, and Alaskan natives were
transferred to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism, which by that time had been created by the law
introduced by Senator Hughes, the Comprehensive Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation
Act of 1970.
the grants from OEO were the first federal grants for services
to persons with alcohol problems and provided primarily
outreach and linking services or outpatient care or both.
The poverty grant program became the largest of NIAAA's
special population categorical program areas. They were
transferred because they were seen as the group least likely
to continue to receive funding when categorical grants were
discontinued, because their approach was not consistent
with the treatment approach favored by state or third-party
of the counselors who worked in these programs had no professional
training. Most of them, however, had developed impressive
skills in working with alcoholics and other addicted people
as a result of their experience in Alcoholics Anonymous
and other 12 Step programs. So Matt R. also established
five training regions in New Jersey, Louisiana, California,
Utah and Illinois.
retired from government service and, in 1973, he began talking
with former colleagues in the OEO program and others throughout
the country who were forming state counselors associations.
In 1974 he formally chartered the National Association of
Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers (NAACT), the forerunner
of what is now the National Association of Alcoholism and
Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).
the next three years, Matt served as Executive Director
of NAAC, operating from his home in Arlington, Virginia,
on a shoestring budget and drawing no salary for his services.
the Finger Panel began studying the issue of national credentialing
for alcoholism counselors in 1975, Matt was named to that
remained as NAAC's Executive Director until 1977. When he
retired a dinner was held in his honor. Senator Hughes,
who could not be there, sent a warm congratulatory message
to Matt, acknowledging his many contributions to the field
was only one of many who worked humbly and quietly to enhance
the lives of alcoholics. But he was one I knew and loved,
and who today, sadly, is remembered by few.
Re-printed with permission by Nancy O., moderator of The
AA History Lovers e-group.