attending the annual Bill W. dinner in New York in October
1963, I noticed a man with a sad expression seated at
the table that Bill and Lois shared with close friends.
Since the general atmosphere in the large banquet room
was festive, his sadness seemed out of place. Someone
told me he was Ebby T., the friend who had called on
Bill in late 1934 to bring him the Oxford Group's spiritual
message that helped Bill get sober and helped form AA.
months later, during one of the last discussions I ever
had with Bill, he told me that he had been able to place
Ebby in a country rest home in upstate New York. Ebby
died two years later from emphysema, the same affliction
that would claim Bill's life in 1971.
physical problems had been compounded by his frequent
bouts with alcohol during the years since he had carried
the message to Bill. His was the kind of story that
causes continuing anguish in AA: a wonderful burst of
initial sobriety followed by a devastating slip and
then a pattern of repeated binges despite his best efforts
and those of his friends. He had a tortured life, and
yet there were times when he struggled valiantly to
put his demons to rest.
never actually met Ebby, but I kept learning more about
him as the years passed. While serving as a contributing
writer to Pass It On in 1980 and 1981, I had
access to the correspondence that flowed between him
and Bill. There was also an opportunity to spend a day
with Margaret, the kindly nurse who cared for Ebby during
his last two years of life.
Albany, New York's capital city, there is archival information
in the state library about Ebby's distinguished family
members and their achievements in politics and business.
Three members of the T. family were Albany mayors, and
one lost a gubernatorial nomination by a very narrow
margin. Ebby's parents were also prominent in social
and church affairs. An assistant to the mayor at that
time told me "you couldn't find a better family than
the T.s" and put me in touch with Ebby's nephew, Ken
T., Jr. When I returned to Albany some years later,
Ken took me to visit Ebby's grave in the Albany Rural
Cemetery, just north of the city.
no denying that Ebby was the "lost sheep" of the family,
but it never completely rejected him or lost hope that
he might someday recover. His last surviving brother,
Ken T., Sr., stayed loyal to him right up to the time
of his own death, just a few months before Ebby's passing.
if Ebby had a friend who was unfailingly loyal and devoted,
it was Bill W., who always called Ebby his sponsor and
seemingly moved heaven and earth in trying to help Ebby
regain sobriety. Indeed, it almost seemed that Bill
threw his own good judgement out the window and became
an "enabler" when Ebby was involved. The late Yev G.,
a member of the Manhattan Group since 1941, told me
in 1980 that Bill seemed to lose all perspective when
Ebby went off on another drunk. Yev recalled it this
was so definitely concerned about Ebby and so fond of
him and felt so grateful and indebted to him that he
would do anything rather than have anything happen to
Ebby. Some of us were Bill's selected emissaries to
find Ebby when he went out on one of his episodes. We
knew his watering holes, the rooming houses, and the
places where he went. So we'd get him and bring him
back in the group, and he'd go along very well. But
we had to observe, really, that Bill did not treat Ebby
with the same kind of approach that he realistically
would with the average kind of alcoholic member we had
in those days in New York."
even Bill became exasperated with Ebby at times, and
this is revealed in some of his correspondence with
and about Ebby. But he never lost hope that Ebby would
recover, and years after his own recovery he would tell
Ebby of his gratitude. It was an astonishing friendship,
and one early AA told me that Bill and Ebby were almost
brief outline of Ebby's life goes this way: he was born
in Albany in 1896, the youngest of five brothers. His
father headed a family-owned foundry that manufactured
railroad-car wheels, and Ebby entered life with the
proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Like his brothers,
he attended Albany Academy, a prestigious private school
that is highly regarded and whose graduates usually
go on to college. But though his brothers excelled at
the academy, Ebby was a lackluster student and did not
family spent their summers in the resort town of Manchester,
Vermont, seven miles south of Bill's hometown, East
Dorset. Ebby's father was a golfing partner of Robert
Todd Lincoln, a wealthy industrialist and the only son
of Abraham Lincoln to reach adulthood. Lois's family
was also a member of this social group, the "summer
people" who awed Bill as he was growing up. Although
Bill felt inferior in status to Ebby's family and Lois's
family, he was something of a hero to other boys in
Manchester because of his skill as a baseball pitcher.
Ebby remembered meeting him in 1910 or '11 and perhaps
watched him play.
may have sipped a little wine on family occasions, but
he didn't have his real first drink until 1915, at age
nineteen, when he walked into Albany's Hotel Ten Eyck
and ordered a glass of beer. At about the same time,
he went to work in the family business. By the time
the firm closed in 1922, Ebby was getting drunk frequently.
Later on in the nineteen-twenties he worked in the Albany
office of a brokerage firm, but there's reason to believe
he was never a real producer. In the meantime, Bill
W. had become a New York stockbroker and was soaring
with the surging market on Wall Street.
January 1929, Bill stopped in Albany on his way to visit
friends in Vermont, and he gave Ebby a call. He and
Ebby spent the evening drinking and then agreed on a
daring way to arrive in Manchester: by air, a risky
action in those early days of aviation. They hired a
barnstorming pilot to fly them to Manchester, which
had just built an airfield, and they arrived, very drunk,
the next day. Bill recalled (as quoted in Pass It
On): "We somehow slid out of the cockpit, fell on
the ground, and there we lay, immobile. Such was the
history-making episode of the first airplane ever to
light at Manchester, Vermont." Their drunken venture
may have created an odd bond between Ebby and Bill that
would be among the reasons Ebby would call on him in
drinking worsened, and by late 1932 he had become such
an embarrassment to his family that he slunk off to
Manchester, and moved back into his family's summer
home. He had periods of sobriety, but by mid-1934 his
drinking had led to troubles and arrests in Manchester.
While his brothers were still actively employed or in
business, the family money supporting Ebby had largely
run out. According to some tales circulated later, he
sold some of the family furniture to buy booze.
this time, several Oxford Group members in the area
chose Ebby as a likely prospect for their spiritual
message. They were Rowland H., Shep C., and Cebra G.
He resisted their approach, but became more receptive
when another drunken incident brought him before a judge
in Bennington. He expected to be jailed for the weekend,
but was permitted to go home on the promise that he
would return--sober--on Monday.
it was at this point, I think, that Ebby won a battle
that became important for all of us. Waiting for him
in the cellar at home were several bottles of his favorite
ale, which he planned to drink immediately after the
local constable let him off at the house. He was in
agony when he raced down the stairs to get them. But
then his promise to the judge stopped him cold, and
he began to wrestle with his conscience. After a fierce
struggle he took the bottles over to a neighbor. The
action gave him peace. That was his last attempt to
drink for two years and seven months.
like to think of this moment as Ebby's Magnificent Victory.
I've wondered whether, if he'd lost this struggle, he
might not have stayed sober and been able to carry the
message to Bill. In any case, he returned to court sober
and was released to the custody of Rowland H., who then
became what we AAs would call a sponsor. Along with
giving Ebby a grounding in Oxford Group principles,
Rowland took him to New York City. After staying with
Shep for a short time, Ebby moved to Calvary Mission,
run by Dr. Sam Shoemaker's Calvary Church on Gramercy
November night in 1934, Ebby came to see Bill, who was
then living in Brooklyn with his wife, Lois. Ebby told
Bill, "I've got religion," and while Bill drank gin
and pineapple juice, Ebby recounted his friendship with
Rowland, described the principles of the Oxford Group
(like the importance of absolute honesty when dealing
with defects), and talked about his growing belief in
God and the efficacy of prayer. Ebby's words, and his
sober demeanor, stayed with Bill, who later recalled,
"The good of what he said stuck so well that in no waking
moment thereafter could I get that man and his message
out of my head." Bill kept drinking, but he decided
to pay a visit to the mission, which he did after stopping
at a number of bars on the way and hooking up with a
drunk Finnish fisherman. When he arrived at the mission,
he ended up giving a kind of drunken monologue at the
evening meeting where the derelict men gave testimonials
about not drinking. On December 11, Bill checked himself
back into Towns Hospital, where he'd previously been
treated. Ebby visited him there, and a few days later,
Bill had his "white light" experience and never took
stayed on in New York, continued to work with Bill,
and moved in with Bill and Lois after Calvary Mission
closed in 1936. But by 1937 he was back in Albany, working
in a Ford factory. While he still worked with alcoholics
and apparently kept up his Oxford Group connections,
tensions were building up in his personal life. Finally,
on a trip to New York City, he drank again, after two
years and seven months of sobriety.
life then became a nightmarish succession of binges
followed by short periods of sobriety. He held jobs
briefly and sometimes performed well for short periods
of time. During World War II, for example, he worked
as a Navy civilian employee and was well-liked by his
superiors. He was given opportunities by other AA members,
and both Bill W. and his older brother Jack sought ways
to help him back to continuous sobriety and well-being.
In the following years, he often lived with Bill and
Lois for months at a time--something Lois tolerated
for Bill's sake.
also became a sort of a game by AA members to become
the person who helped Ebby recover. In 1953, a New York
member named Charlie M. collaborated with AA members
in Dallas, Texas, to take Ebby to the Lone Star state
for treatment at a clinic run by Searcy W., an early
member who still recalls his years with Ebby. After
initial troubles, Ebby found sobriety in Texas and stayed
there for eight years. He also found steady employment
for several years.
clear that Ebby's Texas interlude was the best period
of his adult life. He was lionized by grateful Texas
people who went out of their way to meet him or hear
him speak. In 1954, Ralph J. and his wife Mary Lee even
invited Ebby for a two-month stay at their sheep ranch
near Ozona, Texas, and loved every minute of his visit.
Two members, Olie L. and Icky S., virtually adopted
him, and Searcy became Ebby's Texas sponsor.
one of Ebby's obsessions had been the belief that "finding
the right woman" would be his salvation. He did find
a woman in Texas who seemed to be the love of his life,
but when she died suddenly, he began taking mood-changing
pills and soon was drinking again. He returned to the
New York area in late 1961 and stayed for a time with
his brother Ken.
W. had continued to help Ebby with occasional checks,
and now he came forward again to manage Ebby's life
more closely, partly because of Ebby's declining physical
condition. With help from others, Bill had created a
fund for Ebby to cover his expenses at a treatment-type
facility. Health problems were closing in on Ebby, however,
and it was clear that he could no longer live independently.
And that's probably why Ebby appeared so sad when I
saw him at Bill's banquet in 1963. He was in very poor
health, to say nothing of the other demons that plagued
there was a miracle of sorts waiting for Ebby. In the
final two years of his life, he would find peace, sobriety,
and tender loving care given by Margaret M. and her
husband Mickey at their rest farm in Galway, near Saratoga
Springs, New York. Symbolically enough, the farm was
on a road named Peaceable Street!
had met the M.s and when he learned that Margaret was
in New York attending a nurse's convention, he asked
her to come over to talk with him at GSO. She agreed
to give Ebby care at the farm for seventy-five dollars
a week--a cost Bill could easily manage with the fund
and Ebby's Social Security payments.
drove Ebby up to the rest farm in May 1964, and turned
him over to Margaret and Mickey. Ebby was angry and
defensive at first, but soon responded to their attempts
to help him. Usually a likable person, Ebby even became
popular with the other residents and awed them by his
ability to work The New York Times crossword
puzzles. The farm was only twenty-five miles from Albany,
so he also had visits from his brother Ken and other
friends and relatives. There couldn't have been a better
place for Ebby's last years. Bill, writing to Ebby's
old friends in Texas, would comment on the fine care
Margaret was giving Ebby, and would also note that she
had a good doctor on call.
Ebby's brother Ken died in January 1966, Ebby was too
weak to travel the twenty-five miles to Albany for the
funeral. He seemed to lose the will to live after that,
and one morning in March the housekeeper told Margaret
that Ebby couldn't come down for breakfast. He was rushed
to the nearby Ballston Spa hospital, where he died early
in the morning on March 21.
and Lois were on a trip to Mexico, but returned quickly
for the funeral in Albany. It was a small funeral, and
one woman who attended thought it symbolic that twelve
persons were there to see him off. A brief notice in
the local newspaper mentioned that Ebby was the brother
of a former prominent mayor.
death, Ebby rejoined his prominent family at the Albany
Rural Cemetery, where he lies next to his brother Ken.
The large plot is defined by the monument of his grandfather,
who launched the family business and also served as
Albany's mayor during the Civil War. (Ken, Jr., who
was so generous in supplying information about Ebby
and the family, passed away two months after showing
me Ebby's grave. He is also buried nearby.)
felt some of that gratitude myself when I visited the
old farmhouse with Margaret in 1980. She had operated
it after Mickey's death but finally closed it in 1979.
AA members learn that I've become a student of Ebby's
life, their first question is usually, "Did he die sober?"
I believe, as did Ebby's Texas sponsor, Searcy W., that
Ebby was sober two-and-a-half years when he died. This
may have taken lots of supervision by Bill and Margaret,
but he did put this much together in his final years.
We should give him credit for that, because he gave
us so much--particularly when he won the battle with
ale that weekend in 1934. Without that magnificent victory,
the outcome could have been much different for all of