Ernie Galbraith - AA's Number 4(?)
The man generally considered A.A. number 4 was Ernie Galbraith, who first got sober in the summer of 1935, when Bill Wilson was still staying with the Smiths in Akron.
Described as a wild, devil-may care young fellow (page 158 in the Big Book); he had enlisted for a one-year term in the Army when he was only 14 (but could pass for 18). After getting out of the Army he went to Mexico where he worked for an oil company, then "rode the range" in Texas. He had been married twice and had a son. After returning to Akron he had trouble holding a job because of his drinking.
His parents were very religious and belonged to the same church as T. Henry and Clarace Williams of the Oxford Group. It was probably they who told Ernie's parents about how Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson had found a way to quit drinking. They urged Ernie to go to see Dr. Bob and eventually he did.
He agreed to be taken to City Hospital where he was tapered off. It took several days, he wrote, "for my head to clear and my nerves to settle." After about six days in the hospital he was visited by Dr. Bob, Bill Wilson and Bill Dotson, who explained their program to him, and he agreed to give it a try. "And it worked," he wrote, "as long as I allowed it to do so."
He only "allowed it to do so" for about a year and then "became self-confident and then careless." He went on a seven-month slip.
Finally, after seven months of drinking, he went back "unshaven, unkempt, ill-looking, bleary-eyed," and asked for help again. He wrote that he was never lectured about his "seven month failure."
Ernie "never really jelled," according to Dr. Bob. Sue remembered that "they didn't quite know what to do with him. He even got to where he wanted to get paid for speaking at meetings."
He had periodic relapses, which got worse and worse until the time he died.
Dr. Bob's daughter, Sue, about 17 at the time, said that the first time she saw Ernie he stopped her on the street to ask her how to get to Dr. Smith's house. She pointed out the house, but didn't tell him that she was Sue Smith.
Beginning shortly after she finished grade school, Sue had been seeing a boy named Ray Windows. She claims that her parents disapproved of Ray and tried to break them up.
Sue believes her father deliberately tried to get her interested in Ernie in order to keep her away from Ray.
She didn't like Ernie at first; she thought he was a "smarty." She described him as "stout, with reddish hair and a round face with blue eyes. He was outgoing, the life-of-the-party type. Ernie was single then and he kept coming to the house, and I think my dad got the bright idea that if he could get Ernie to take me out, and he'd pay the way, he might be able to get me away from Ray. We'd go down and get hamburgers, and Dad would buy them. I knew all that, but I didn't realize it was in connection with Ray at the time. Now I think it was. I think Dad was using Ernie, and it backfired on him."
When Ray got a job out of town and moved away, "Ernie gradually started to have some appeal," Sue wrote. "He was an older person and he had a good sense of humor. We always had fun. We joked together. He was a real storyteller. He could make my Mom and Dad laugh like nobody I've ever seen, just sitting around the kitchen table, telling stories, and drinking coffee. Like I say, they were pushing me, so I figured they liked him. And that was kind of different."
Sue still saw Ray when he would come home for visits, but eventually she broke it off with Ray and married Ernie. Her parents disapproved, perhaps for other reasons as well, but certainly because they knew Ernie was drinking again.
He was drunk when he married Sue in September of 1941. Her parents did not attend. Sue said she never told them she was married and believed they had heard about it or read it in the papers.
The only witnesses, besides the minister, were Ernie's parents. Sue had moved out of her parent's home about nine month's before, with the admonition from Dr. Bob, "Just remember, young lady, wherever you go, you take yourself with you."
Sue said that Ernie continued drinking that time until about 1946, when "the only reason he quit was the doctor thought he had a heart condition, and it scared him to death. I don't think he ever had a heart condition. I don't think he had a heart."
While Sue was somewhat reconciled with her parents, apparently they were never again close. Sue said they didn't visit or send flowers when her children were born. They never said anything to Sue about Ernie, but she believes her father "would talk to other people about him. I heard Dad grew a healthy dislike for him. And Bill -- well, Bill came down one time when Ernie and I were still together, and Bill and I made this tape about A.A. and Dad. But on that tape, Ernie said something to Bill and Bill shot back at him, 'I gave up on you a long time ago, you son of a bitch!' That's right on the tape."
Sue and Ernie had two children, a son (Mickey) and a daughter (Bonna).
Ernie and Sue divorced about 1965 and he remarried.
On June 11, 1969, Bonna shot herself, after first killing her six-year old daughter. She was 23 at the time of her death. Sue claims that Bonna was an alcoholic and was also using "diet pills."
Sue wrote, "Ernie never got over it. Bonna died June 11, 1969, and he died two years later to the day, June 11, 1971." Later Sue married her childhood sweetheart, Ray Windows. Ray died August 3, 1989.
Sources: "The Children of the Healer, the Story of Dr. Bob's Kids" and "Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers".
This article written by Nancy O.