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Bob: A Tribute
Grapevine, Inc January 1951
remarking to his attendant, "I think this is it,"
Dr. Bob passed out of our sight and hearing November 16,
1950 at noonday. So ended the sonsuming malady wherein he
had so well shown us how high faith can rise over grievous
distress. As he had lived, so he had died, supremely aware
that in his Father's house are many mansions.
all those he memory was at floodtide. But who could really
say what was thought and felt fy the 5,000 sick ones to
whom he personally ministered and freely gave a physician's
care; who could possibly record the reflections of his townsmen
who had seen him sink almost within the grasp of oblivion,
then rise to anonymous world renown; who could express the
gratitude of those tens of thousands of AA families who
had so well heard of him but had never seen him face to
face? What, too, were the emotions of those nearest him
as they tankfully pondered the mystery of his regeneration
fifteen years ago and all its vast consequences since? Not
the smallest fraction of this great benefaction could be
comprehended. He could only declare, "What indeed hath
would Dr. Bob have us think him saint or superman. Nor would
he have us praise him or grieve his passing. He can almost
be heard, saying, "Seems to me you folks are making
heavy going. I'm not to be taken so seriously as all that.
I was only a first link in that chain of providential circumstances
which is call AA. By grace and great fortune my link did
not break; though my faults and failures might often have
brought on that unhappy result. I was just another alcoholic
trying to get along -- under the grace of God. Forget me,
but go you and do likewise. securely add your own link to
our chain. With God's help, forge that chain well and truly."
In this manner would Dr. Bob estimate himself and counsel
was a Saturday in May 1935. An ill-starred business venture
had brought me to Akron where it immediately collapsed,
leaving me in a precarious state of sobriety. That afternoon
I paced the lobby of Akron's Mayflower Hotel. As I peered
at the gathering crowd in the bar, I became desperately
frightened of a slip. It was the first severe temptation
since my New York friend had laid before me what were to
become the basic principles of AA, in November 1934. For
the next six months I had felt utterly secure in my sobriety.
But now there was not security; I felt alone, helpless.
In the months before I had worked hard with other alcoholics.
Or, rather, I had preached at them in a somewhat cocksure
fashion. In my false assurance I felt I couldn't fall. But
this time it was different. Something had to be done at
at a church directory at the far end of the lobby, I slected
the name of a clergyman at random. Over the phone I told
him of my need to work with another alcoholic. Though I'd
had no previous success with any of them I suddenly realized
how such work had kept me free from desire. The clergyman
gave me a list of ten names. Some of these people, he was
sure, would refer me a came in need of help. Almost running
to my room, I seized the phone. But my enthusiasm soon ebbed.
Not a person in the first nine called could, or would, suggest
anything to meet my urgency.
uncalled name still stood at the end of my list -- Henrietta
Seiberling. Somehow I couldn't muster courage to lift the
phone. But after one more look into the bar downstairs something
said to me, "You'd better." To my astonishment
a warm Southern voice floated in over the wire. Declaring
herself no alcoholic, Henrietta nonetheless insisted that
she understood. Would I come to her home at once?
she had been enabled to face and transcend over calamities,
she certainly did understand mine. She was to become a vital
link to those fantastic events which were presently to gather
around the birth and development of our AA Society. Of all
names the obliging rector had given me, she was the only
one who cared enough. I would here like to record our timeless
she pictured the plight of Dr. Bob and Anne. Suiting action
to her word, she called their house. As Anne answered, Henrietta
described me as a sobered alcoholic from New York who, she
felt sure, could help Bob. The good doctor had seemingly
exhausted all medical and spiritual remedies for his condition.
Then Anne replied, "What your say, Henrietta, is terribly
interesting. But I am afraid we can't do anything now. Being
Mother's Day, my dear boy has just brought in a fine potted
plant. The pot is on the table but, alas, Bob is on the
floor. Could we try to make it tomorrow?" Henrietta
instantly issued a dinner invitation for the following day.
five o'clock next afternoon, Anne and Dr. Bob stood at Henrietta's
door. She discreetly whisked Bob and me off to the library.
His words were, "Mighty glad to meet you, Bill. But
it happens I can't stay long; five or ten minutes at the
outside." I laughted and observed "Guess you're
pretty thirsty aren't you?" His rejoinder was, "Well,
maybe you do understand this drinking business after all."
So began a talk which lasted hours.
different my attitude was this time. My fright of getting
drunk had evoked a much more becoming humility. After telling
Dr. Bob my story, I explained how truly I needed him. Would
he allow me to help him, I might remain sober myself. The
seed that was to flower as AA began to grow toward the light.
But as dear Anne well guessed, that first tendril was a
fragile thing. Practical steps had better be taken. She
bade me come and live at their menage for a while. There
I might keep an eye on Dr. Bob. And he might on me. This
was the very thing. Perhaps we could do together what we
couldn't do separately. Besides I might revive my sagging
the next three months I lived with these tow wonderful people.
I shall always believe they gave me more than I ever brought
them. Each morning there was devotion. After the long silence
Anne would read out of the good book. James was our favorite.
Reading him from her chair in the corner, she would softly
conclude "Faith without works is dead."
Bob's travail with alcohol was not quite over. That Atlantic
City Medical Convention had to be attended. He hadn't missed
one in twenty years. Anxiously waiting, Anne and I heard
nothing for five days. Finally his office nurse and her
husband found him early one morning at the Akron railroad
station in some confusion and disarray -- which puts it
mildly. A horrible dilemma developed. Dr. Bob had to perform
a critical surgical operation just three days hence. Nor
could an associate substitute for him. He simply had to
do it. But how? Could we ever get him ready in time?
and i were placed in twin beds. A typical tapering down
process was inaugurated. No much sleep for anybody, but
he cooperated. At four o'clock on the morning of the operation
he turned, looked at me, and said, "I am going through
with this." I inquired, "You mean you are going
through with the operation?" He replied, "I have
placed both the operation and myself in God's hands. I'm
going to do what it takes to get sober and stay that way."
Not another word did he say. At nine o'clock he shook miserably
as we helped him into his clothes. We were panic stricken.
Could he ever do it? Were he too tight or too shaky, it
would make little difference, his misguided scalpel might
take the life of his patient. We gambled. I game him one
bottle of beer. That was the last drink he ever took. It
was June 10, 1935. The patient lived.
first prospect appeared; a neighboring parson sent him over.
Because the newcomer faced eviction, Anne took in his whole
family, wife and two children. The new one was a puzzler.
When drinking, he'd go clean out of his mind. One afternoon
Anne sat at her kitchen table, calmly regarding him as he
fingered a carving knife. Under her steady gaze, his hand
dropped. But he did not get sober then. His wife dispairingly
betook herself to her own parents and he disappeared. But
he did reappear fifteen years later for Dr. Bob's last rites.
There we saw him, soundly and happily sober in AA. Back
in 1935 we weren't so accustomed to miracles as we are today;
we had given him up.
came a lull on the Twelfth Step front. In this time Anne
and Henrietta infused much needed spirituality into Bob
and me. Lois came to Akron on vacation from her grind at
a New York department store, so raised our morale immensely.
We began to attend Oxford Group meetings at the Akron home
of T. Henry Williams. The devotion of this good man and
his wife is a bright page in memory. Their names will be
inscribed on page one of AA's book of first and best friends.
day Dr. Bob said to me, "Don't you think we'd better
scare up some drunks to work on?" He phoned the nurse
in charge of admissions at Akron City Hospital and told
her how he and another drunk from New York had a cure for
alcoholism. I saw the old boy blush and look disconcerted.
The nurse and commented, "Well, Doctor, you'd better
give that cure a good workout on yourself."
the admitting nurse produced a customer. A dandy, she said
he was. A prominent Akron lawyer, he had lost about everything.
He'd been in City Hospital six times in four months. He'd
arrived at that very moment; had jsut knocked down a nurs
he'd thought was a pink elephant. "Will that one do
you?" she inquired. Said Dr. Bob, "Put him in
a private room. We'll be down when he's better."
Dr. Bob and I saw a sight which tens of thousands of us
have since beheld, the sight of the man on the bed who does
not yet know he can get well. We explained to the man on
the bed the nature of his malady and told him our own stories
of drinking and recovery. But the sick one shook his head,
"Guess you've been through the mill boys, but you never
were half as bad off as I am. For me it's too late. I don't
dare go out of here. I'm a man of faith, too; used to be
deacon in my church. I've still faith in God but I guess
he hasn't got any in me. Alcohol has me, it's no use. Come
and see me again, though. I'd like to talk with you more."
we entered his room for our second visit a woman sitting
at the foot of his bed was saying, "What has happened
to you, husband? You seem so different. I feel relieved."
The man turned to us. "Here they are," he cried.
"They understand. After they left yesterday I couldn;t
get what they told me out of my mind, I lay awake all night.
Then hope came. If they could find release, so might I.
I became willing to get honest with myself, to square my
wrongdoing, to help other alcoholics. The minute I did this
I began to feel different. I knew I was going to be well."
Continued the man on the bed, "Now, good wife, please
fetch my clothes. We are going to get up and out of here."
Whereupon AA number three arose from his bed, never to drink
again. The seed of AA had pushed another tendril up through
the new soil. Though we knew it not, it had already flowered.
Three of us were gathered together. Akron's Group One was
three worked with scores of others. Many were called but
mighty few chosen; failure was our daily companion. But
when I left Akron in September 1935, two or three more sufferes
had apparently linked themselves to us for good.
next two years marked the "flying blind" period
of our pioneering time. With the fine instinct of that good
physician he was, Dr. Bob continued to medically treat and
indoctrinate every new case, first at Akron City Hospital,
then for the dozen years since at famed St. Thomas where
thousands passed under his watchful eye and sure AA touch.
Tough not of his faith, the staff and sisters there did
prodigies. Theirs is one of the most compelling examples
of love and devotion we AAs have ever witnessed. Ask the
thousands of AA visitors and patients who really know. Ask
them what they think of Sister Ignatia, of St. Thomas. Of
of Dr. Bob. But I'm getting ahead of my story.
a small group had taken shape in New York. The Akron meeting
at T. Henry's home began to have a few Cleveland visitors.
At this junture I spent a week visiting Dr. Bob. We commenced
to count noses. Out of hundreds of alcoholics, how many
had stuck? How many were sober? And for how long? In that
fall of 1937 Bob and I counted forty cases who had significant
dry time -- maybe sixty years for the whole lot of them!
Our eyes glistened. Enough time had elapsed on enough cases
to spell out something quite new, perhaps something great
indeed. Suddenly the ceiling went up. We no longer flew
blind. A beacon had been lighted. God had shown alcoholics
how it might be passed from hand to hand. Never shall I
forget that great and humbling hour of realization, shared
with Dr. Bob.
the new realization faced us with a great problem, a momentous
decission. It had taken nearly three years to effect forty
recoveries. The United States alone probably had a million
alcoholics. How were we to get the story to them? Wouldn't
we need paid workers, hospitals or our own, lots of money?
Surely we must have some sort of a textbook. Dare we crawl
at a snail's pace whilst our story got garbled and mayhap
thousands would die? What a poser that was!
we were spared from professionalism, wealth, and extensive
property management; how we finally came up with the book
Alcoholics Anonymous is a story by itself. But in this critical
period it was Dr. Bob's prudent counsel which so often restrained
us from rash ventures that might have retarded us for years,
perhaps ruined us for good. Nor can we ever forget the devotion
of Dr. Bob and Jim S. (who passed away last summer) as they
gathered stories for the AA Book, three-fifths of them coming
from Akron alone. Dr. Bob's special fortitude and wisdom
were prime factors in that time so much characterized by
doubts, and finally by grave decision.
much we may rejoice that Anne and Dr. Bob both lived to
see the lamp lit at Akron carried into every corner of the
earth; that they doubtless realized millions might someday
pass under the ever widening arch whose keystone they so
gallantly helped carve. Yet, being so humble as they were,
I'm sure they never quite guessed what a heritage they left
us, nor how beautifully their appointed task had been completed.
All they needed to do was finished. It was ever reserved
for Dr. Bob to see AA come of age as, for the last time,
he spoke to 7,000 of us at Cleveland, July 1950.
saw Dr. Bob the Sunday before he died. A bare month previous
he had aided me in framing a proposal for the General Service
Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA's Third Legacy. This
bequest, in pamphlet form, was actually at the printers
when he took his final departure the following Thursday.
As his last act and desire respecting AA, this document
will be sure to carry a great and special meaning for us
no other person have I ever experienced quite the same relation:
The finest thing I know how to say is that in all the strenous
time of our association, he and I never had an uncomfortable
difference of opinion. His capacity for brotherhood and
love was often beyond my ken.
a last word, may I leave with you a moving example of his
simplicity and humility. Curiously enough, the story is
about a monument -- a monument proposed for him. A year
ago, when Anne passed away, the thought of an imposing shaft
came uppermost in the minds of many. People were insistent
that something be done. Hearing rumors of this, Dr. Bob
promptly declared against AAs erecting for Anne and himself
any tangible memorial or monument. These usual symbols of
personal distinction he brushed aside in a single devastating
sentence. Said he, "Annie and I plan to be buried just
like other folks."
the alcoholic ward in St. Thomas his friends did, however,
erect this simple plaque. It reads: "In Gratitue: The
friends of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith affectionately dedicate
this memorial to the sisteres and staff of St. Thomas Hospital.
At Akron, birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous, St. Thomas
Hospital became the first religious institution ever to
open its door to our Society. May the loving devotion of
those who labored here in our pioneering time be a bright
and wondrous example of God's grace everlastingly set before
Grapevine, Inc January 1951
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