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World War II was over, gasoline rationing ended and travel
restrictions were raised. There were now an estimated 600
A.A. groups in the country, and their 15,000 members began
to get together in larger meetings—at first locally
with one-day programs, then among several towns in an area,
and soon even regionally with week-end conferences. (The
first regional meeting was the Southeast, in Birmingham,
Alabama, in 1945.)
1945 saw the first national meeting as well, hosted by the
44 Cleveland groups on June 9-10. Actually, it was the first
International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous, as people
attended from 36 states, two Canadian provinces and Mexico.
However, it was not billed as such, partly because it was
strictly an activity of the Cleveland A.A.'s and partly
for reasons that are hard to realize today. But in the world
of 1945, "alcoholism" was still a hush-hush word, not to
be mentioned in polite company, taboo to most people and
unknown to even more. A.A. had been struggling to become
established in many parts of the country, and cooperation
of the medical profession and even of the families and friends
of alcoholics was still just beginning. So to hold a Convention
of alcoholics was a presumptuous and fearsome thing to do!
announcement was mailed to all A.A. groups, reading in part:
Cleveland Fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous are privileged
to be hosts to what will undoubtedly be the most significant
meeting in the 10-year history. . . June 10th marks the
inception of A.A. when Bill W. and Doc S. fused their separate
ideologies into the principles of what has become our great
nation-wide activity...And so that milestone is to be appropriately
commemorated in Cleveland, Ohio, at the lath Anniversary
Meeting at which Bill and Doc will be our speakers..."
S. recalls that when the notice was read in Kansas City,
he immediately decided to go. "We didn't really have the
money to do it, but we did it anyway. And I've always been
glad I did. You went on a train in those days. I ran around
with Grace C. [the nonalcoholic secretary of the Chicago
central office] and Bobbie B. There was also a man named
Stanley W. that we dug out of the dirt here in Kansas City.
He was an engineer and had gone to Cleveland and was making
good, so Stanley hauled all of us around and showed us the
A .A. places there in Cleveland. . . I heard a man speak
who was running a laundry out in the middle of the Pacific
Ocean for the Navy, and he was staying sober. He said he
had three members in his group out there - the Big Book,
God and himself. I've never forgotten that.
where I met Dr. Bob. He came over to the table where we
were having breakfast, because there was an empty chair.
So he sat down and talked to us. He wanted to know if we'd
met Anne, his wife, and took me over to another table and
introduced me to her...That was the first time Bill and
Dr. Bob were on a platform together. They both told how
events began with a Ladies' Tea "for women members and wives
of members" at the Carter Hotel on Saturday afternoon. About
a thousand people showed up for the "Get-Acquainted Dinner"
that followed, and they then divided up to attend A.A. meetings
hosted by the Glenville group and the Carnegie Hall group,
or open houses—complete with orchestra, dancing, entertainment
and refreshments—at the Doan Men's group or the West
Side Social group.
all this was preliminary to the Tenth Anniversary meeting
at 2:30 Sunday afternoon at the Music Hall in downtown Cleveland.
A near-capacity crowd of over 2,500 were present, "the largest
crowd of A.A.'s ever assembled in one place." Bill W. related
his story, stressing how he had-discovered from Ebby that
he was suffering from an illness not only of the mind and
body, but of the soul, and that to recover, he would have
to stop "demanding" from life, and would now have to become
honest with himself, make peace with his fellow man, and
live a new kind of life, a life of giving. He told of the
circumstances that led to his meeting with Dr.Bob and then
traced the exciting developments since. He voiced a final
tribute to his co-founder and declared emotionally, "Although
we have had many differences, we have never had an angry
Bob, after telling his own experience in meeting Bill, said
his 10 years of sobriety provided the best reason for not
taking a drink. He spoke of "blindly groping for the truth"
in the early days in Akron, mostly by trial and error. "We
had no precedent whatsoever, gleaning a fact here and there
as time went on. Eventually a general procedure was discovered..."
He quoted the advice of the Oxford Groups "to bury the past
and not visit the grave too often." He said that although
he wanted to avoid religious discussion, he himself had
spent at least an hour a day for the past 10 years in spiritual
Dr. Bob expressed his gratitude for the divine source of
strength "on which we all may call and receive".. . for
the meeting with Bill in Akron "made under divine guidance".
. . for all the people before A.A. and in the early days
"who were a source of help and inspiration in my trouble"...for
his pastor and his wife, Anne, "without whom I would not
have maintained my sobriety". . . for those A.A.'s of Cleveland
who came to Akron while the Fellowship was still young...for
the members of the Alcoholic Foundation who have met "for
roughly eight years without compensation"...for having acquired
a wealth of friends...including those present at the Music
Cleveland newspapers gave the 10th Anniversary Meeting prominent
and enthusiastic coverage. After reporting on the program
and speakers, the Plain Dealer said, "The real story was
in the people who filled the seats at the Music Hall. Here
were sparkling eyed, well-dressed men and women—doctors,
lawyers, brokers, teachers, war plant workers, nurses, businessmen—who
months or years ago were outcasts of society, hopeless drunks.
. . Now, whether pioneers in the movement or newcomers dry
only a few months, all are filled with hope and good cheer
and are well on the way to taking a responsible place in
years later, in 1950—with the success of their earlier
experience to draw on—the Cleveland A.A.'s decided
to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous
with another International Conference. The Fellowship had
grown from about 15,000 to an estimated 96,400 members,
and it was thought that as many as 10,000 might show up.
The actual registration was nearer 3,000 (with a few hundred
more attendees who did not register) --still an impressive
crowd for that day.
Bill W. in a letter to Dick S., Chairman of the committee
in Cleveland, indicated he was a bit skeptical of setting
a precedent for large international gatherings—unless
they were for a good reason. He went on to specify two "good
reasons" for the 1950 event: (1) honoring Dr. Bob - obviously
the last opportunity; and (2) acceptance of the Twelve Traditions.
The Trustees of the Alcoholic Foundation thought well enough
of the idea that they agreed to contribute $3,000 to an
underwriting fund (to which the Cleveland/Akron groups also
contributed a lesser amount.) By 1955, the 20th Anniversary
International Convention in St.Louis was an activity of
the Board itself and was seized upon by Bill as the occasion
to turn over the leadership of A.A. to the groups, to end
the trial period of the General Service Conference and make
it permanent, and to introduce the second edition of the
Big Book. As far as is known, he had no further doubts about
the value of large international gatherings.
the 1950 convention, which took place from Friday morning
through Sunday afternoon, July 28-30, the program was far
more ambitious and substantive than the earlier celebration.
It was the first to have workshops and panel meetings on
subjects that set the pattern for future conventions. There
was a session on Hospitalization of Alcoholics, at which
Bill W. entered wearing beautiful lei over his right shoulder.
He explained that it was sent in gratitude by a group of
people who would never be able to attend the Conference
or any other A.A. meeting than their own. It was from the
A.A. group in the leper colony in the Solomon Islands. There
was a workshop on A.A. in Correctional Institutions with
Warden Clinton Duffy of San Quentin as the principal speaker.
There was a panel meeting on A.A. in Industry in which personnel
directors of large companies described their alcoholism
programs and how A.A. cooperated with them.
was a special session for Women members on Friday and another
for Young People in A.A. on Saturday! The editors, writers
and managers of A.A. publications had a symposium of their
own. A banquet, followed by entertainment and dancing took
place Saturday night. And on Sunday morning, a meeting on
"The Spiritual Significance of A.A." set the pattern for
Sunday morning "spiritual meetings" at countless get-togethers
ever since. Bill reported later, "Several thousand of us
crowded into the Cleveland Music Hall for the Tradition
meeting, which was thought by most A.A.'s to the high point
of our Conference. Six old-time stalwarts, coming from places
as far flung as Boston and San Diego, beautifully reviewed
the years of A.A. experience which had let to the writing
of our Traditions." Bill was then asked to sum up the Traditions,
which he did in the words of the long form. "So summing
up, I then inquired if those present had any objections
to the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous as they
stood. Hearing none, I offered the A.A. Traditions for adoption.
Impressively unanimous, the crowd stood up. So ended that
fine hour in which we of Alcoholics Anonymous took our Destiny
by the hand."
S. was in that crowd in 1950, and in the even larger crowd
that filled the ballroom at the Hotel Cleveland the next
afternoon for the Big Meeting to hear the co-founders speak.
"I remember Dr. Bob clinging on to the podium with both
hands," Ken recalls. "He didn't talk over ten minutes, and
I always like to remember especially his advice near the
end, 'Let us also remember to guard that erring member,
wrote afterward, "Earlier [in the Conference) we thought
he'd never make it, his illness was so severe. Seeing him
once again was an experience we thousands shall always treasure.
He left us a great heritage by which A.A. can surely grow...The
legacy of one who saw our first Group to success, and one
who, in the 15 years since, had given both medical help
and vital A.A. to 4,000 of our afflicted...Simplicity, devotion,
steadfastness and loyalty. . . these were [his] hallmarks."
S. remembers two men coming out to help Dr. Bob off the
platform, and Al S., the Trustee who drove him back to Akron
immediately afterward, recalls he slept most of the way.
He died three and a half months later.
Dr. Bob's last talk on Sunday, Bill W. concluded the Conference
with an hour-long talk summing up A.A.'s development and
growth. Back only a week from several-months trip with Lois,
visiting A.A. in Europe, he was full of optimism and gratitude
to God - closing, appropriately, with "A Vision for You"
from the end of Chapter 11 in the Big Book.
epochal 20th Anniversary International Convention which
took place in St.Louis in 1955 was the first undertaken
by the General Service Board in behalf of A.A. as a whole
and therefore was planned and executed by a Trustees' committee
and the staff of the General Service Office. Dennis Manders
and Nell Wing attest that an enormous amount of work was
entailed in managing the registration and ticketing, finances,
housing, transportation, dinner, speakers, sale of books
and literature, tapes, etc., etc. One result, however, was
an information-filled, inspirational program which became
the model for all the international conventions that followed.
A mix of workshops, panel meetings, alkathons, talks by
A.A. pioneers, Big Meetings and entertainment provided vehicles
for hearing from and honoring nonalcoholics in medicine,
religion, and other fields who had helped A.A.; and for
focusing on G.S.O., the Grapevine, institutions and' hospital
work, A.A. in industry, and other topics.
the "official" estimate of attendance was 5,000, the true
number of paid registrations was just over 3,800, and the
Convention ended up with an operating deficit of about $25,000—a
huge sum in 1955. The entire annual budget for the office
and the Board was less than $250,000, so the Convention
lost about 10% of the budget. Greatly concerned, Hank C.,
Dennis Manders and the Trustees agreed that this should
be A.A.'s last convention, as the Fellowship could not afford
to continue to go in hole financially. But when this recommendation
was taken to the 1956 Conference, the Delegates would have
none of it. (See below.)
full account of the International Convention in St.Louis
is told in Chapter 1 of this book, and, of course, in Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age.
the Conference overruled the Board and decided to go ahead
with an International Convention on the 25th Anniversary
of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1960, Long Beach and San Francisco
both wanted the event. The Fellowship was very strong in
California. To decide which city got the Convention, the
two Delegates from Southern and Northern California flipped
a coin, and Long Beach won. The Trustees conceded, on the
condition that the groups in the area would raise enough
money to guarantee that there would be no loss. This position
was later modified to the extent that the Board agreed to
match whatever guarantee fund the local area raised. (The
requirement for a local guarantee fund continued until the
1975 Convention, when it was dropped.) At the Long Beach
Convention, the local groups put on the entertainment and
the dance, for which separate tickets were sold, not included
in the registration fee. When all the bills were paid and
the proceeds from the show and the dance turned in, the
Convention wound up about $600 in the black.
planning of the 1960 Convention was mostly in the hands
of Hank G., general manager of G.S.O. and Hazel R., Convention
secretary. Herb H., who was scheduled to replace Hank later
in the year, was also kept briefed. "We didn't have much
money to spend running back and forth to California in those
days," recalls Dennis Manders, "so a lot of the preliminary
work was done by mail and phone. Hank made two or three
solo trips to meet with the local people, and he and Hazel
made one trip. Hank carried a lot of the details, including
names of contacts, etc., in his head."
prior to the Convention, a series of disasters struck. Herb
M. had a massive heart attack, which put him out of commission
in New York. Hank C., on his way out to set up the Convention,
suffered a ruptured appendix and ended up in intensive care
and unreachable in a Nevada hospital. Allen B., the General
Service Trustee, was rushed into the breach as acting Convention
Chairman, but without any of Hank's background. Al S. assisted
him. Dennis Manders and Hazel R. hurried out to Long Beach,
and Bill W. departed several days ahead of schedule, joined
later by Lois and Nell Wing. Meanwhile, the local chairman
of arrangements for the Convention disappeared and could
not be found during the whole event. Dennis remembers ad
hoc meetings going on until 2:00, 3:00 or even 4:00 a.m.
as they tried to put the pieces together. But, he says,
it all worked out okay. According to Nell, Bill was near
exhaustion. Although she tried to protect him from the crush
of people wanting to talk to him, he was greeting everybody,
talking with old friends late into the night, drinking Cokes
all day for energy.
Convention, which ran July 1-3, drew an attendance estimated
at 10,000, though the paid registrations were nearer 8,700.
It was distinguished by the presence of more giants in A.A.
history than had ever been assembled in one place, before
or since. Besides Bill and Lois, of course, there were Sister
Ignatia, Col. Edward Towns of Towns Hospital, Ebby T., Rev.
Sam Shoemaker, Dr. Harry Tiebout, Warden Clinton Duffy,
Archie Roosevelt, Leonard Harrison, and Dr. Jack Norris,
along with Marty M. and many other A.A. pioneers. These
figures, most of whom Bill introduced on Friday night, were
captured in a documentary film of the Convention, a priceless
record for Archival purposes but not for general showing
(by Conference action) because of the many A.A. members
shown full face.
The entertainment produced by the California members was
an all-star show, with Jack B., a member and a well-known
comedian, as master of ceremonies. It featured a famous
orchestra and some of Hollywood's brightest stars including
Buster Keaton, Jayne Mansfield, Dennis Day and Peggy Lee
- all of whom donated their talent without charge. The A.A.
Grapevine published a large sized, hard-cover souvenir book
of the Silver Jubilee Convention entitled "A.A. Today,"
which proved such a collector's item that it was later reprinted
in soft cover and is still sold today.
who attended the Convention remembers Bill's "Deep Freeze"
talk, if they remember nothing else. It took place on Friday
night in an open-air stadium on the water. Climaxing a program,
which ran long anyway, Bill talked on the Traditions for
nearly two hours. A bitterly cold wind came up early in
the evening, and the audience, dressed for the most part
in summer clothes, nearly froze. Yet not many people left.
Some of the Trustees seated on the stage were huddled in
blankets, which led Al S., who chaired the meeting, to preface
his introductions with, "In case you're wondering who these
people are in back of me and think they're the Los Angeles
Rams, they're your Trustees." The acoustics of the public
address system were such that the Trustees couldn't hear
a word from the microphone. Halfway through the ordeal,
Dr. Tiebout leaned over to Leonard Harrison next to him
and said, "If someone told me that I'd be sitting in this
cold weather for this long, I'd tell him to go to a psychiatrist!"
Bob H. agreed with Nell that Bill was on the point of exhaustion
and seemed "hyper" throughout the week-end, going on nervous
energy alone. "I wish the Long Beach crowd could have seen
Bill as I knew him at home," said Bob, "calm and full of
humility instead of frenzy." On the other hand, Ken S.,
who froze along with the thousands of others in the stadium,
calls Bill's talk "one of the greatest he ever made in his
life. I heard a lot of them, but that was one of the best."
other memorable feature of the Convention: Long Beach ran
out of coffee!
next Convention, held July 2-4, 1965, was truly "International",
as it was held in Canada. It was also the first to attract
plane - loads of A.A. members from Europe; 30 foreign countries
were represented. Over 10,000 people gathered in Toronto,
at the Royal York Hotel and the vast Maple Leaf Gardens
arena to celebrate A.A.'s 30th year.
guarantee fund was raised through a structure set up for
the purpose in five Canadian provinces where the groups
contributed to a local account. The moneys, totaling $6,500
(American) were then transferred to a single Toronto account,
under a Canadian A.A. treasurer. Problems developed when
this preliminary committee refused to disband and got into
a dispute with the host committee of the Convention. They
kept wrangling until Herb H., general manager of G.S.O.,
and Dennis Manders met with all the parties in Toronto and
told them bluntly that if they couldn't get together and
straighten out their organization in one week, he would
pull out the Convention! "It may have been partly bluff,"
says Dennis, "but Herb was pretty hard-nosed and he might
have done it. At any rate, his tough talk did the job."
Dennis has nothing but praise for the Canadians with whom
he dealt in connection with the Convention. He characterized
them as "honest, ethical and dependable. They helped enormously
in making the Convention run unusually smoothly."
of them, the manager of the Maple Leaf Gardens, was indirectly
responsible for a change in handling the charge for convention
entertainment. The Board had decided to provide the entertainment,
selling separate tickets for it as the Californians had
done in 1960. But the Gardens manager let Herb and Dennis
know in a tactful and roundabout way that if they sold tickets,
the Gardens would have to get a percentage of the proceeds;
but if the cost of the entertainment were included in the
registration fee, then the Gardens wouldn't be entitled
to any kind of rebate. "He was just a hell of a nice guy,"
says Dennis. "So that is how we started to incorporate the
price of entertainment in the registration. In Toronto,
we had two classes of badges, a basic registration for $5.00
or one for $8.00 which included entertainment. We found
that 95% of the people bought the full package, so from
then on we eliminated the two classes of badges."
Conventioneers overflowing the "headquarters" hotel and
housed elsewhere around the city, it was necessary for the
first time to provide free bussing. This was made possible
through the Hotel/Motel Association, who received a $1-per-night-per-room
rebate from the hotels and, at A. A's request, used it for
cloth cover, handsomely produced 30th Anniversary souvenir
book was produced—largely by Herb M., with some direction
from Bill W. - which captured in words and pictures the
growth of A.A. in Canada and the U.S. and its state in 1965.
Emphasizing its international nature, the book contained
the Steps and Traditions in 11 languages. It was not only
a success at the Convention, but its format was closely
followed twenty years later in the 50th Anniversary souvenir
Convention weekend began with two huge dances Thursday night
and continued next day with the first of 69 sessions that
comprised the program, all jam-packed, with 150 A.A. speakers
and 24 noted nonalcoholic authorities. New names among the
latter were Selden Bacon, Director of the Center for Alcohol
Studies at Rutgers University; Dr. Marvin Block, of the
American Medical Association; Rev. Howard Clinebell; and
Dr. Luther Cloud, former President, Medical Society on Alcoholism.
The program also included 100 Al-Anon and Alateen speakers,
as the Convention included both Fellowships. Dr. Jack Norris
was everywhere: chairing, speaking, meeting with the press,
providing visible leadership.
crowd filled the Gardens arena Friday night to hear from
Bill's own lips A.A.'s colorful and fantastic history, and
to hear Lois tell her Al-Anon story. The third speaker was
one of the most popular of the time, Marty M., A.A.'s first
woman member. The crowd ("the largest assemblage of A.A.
members in history") returned Saturday night for a program
built around the Convention theme, "I Am Responsible." They
heard Bill and Bernard Smith, nonalcoholic Trustee who had
been associated with A.A. for 21 years, speak of "one of
the most glorious fruits of A.A. recovery from alcoholism;
namely, individual freedom to accept responsibility for
ourselves and for our share in A.A. as a whole."
are approaching A.A. at the rate of tens of thousands yearly,"
Bill declared. "Let us not pressure anyone with our individual
or collective views. Let us, instead, accord each other
with respect and love..." And Bern Smith declared eloquently,
"You have something great and awesome going for you. Treat
it tenderly, respect what it has done for you and what it
can do for others...
long as one man dwells in the darkness you once knew, you
cannot rest; you must try to find him and help him become
one of you...By the grace of God, may A.A. last for all
one present will ever forget the brief but impressive ceremony
that followed. From behind an immense banner at the rear
of the stage, depicting the A.A. triangle within a circle
representing the globe, came 90 Delegates and members from
all over the world to join the Trustees already seated there.
The 10,000 in the audience rose, clasped hands, and led
by Bill and Lois, accepted the Responsibility Declaration
in unison, thunderously:
am responsible. When anyone, anywhere reaches out for
help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And
for that: I am responsible.
Declaration was written for the occasion by Al S. Printed
on wallet cards and in many A.A. pamphlets ever since, it
has been quoted and recited innumerable times. Attempts
have been made at least twice at General Service Conferences
to change the wording of the Declaration to make it more
specific to alcoholics and less inclusive, but the attempts
have failed—largely because of the illogicality of
trying to alter, retroactively, the historical event which
transpired in Toronto at 10:25 p.m. on July 3, 1965.
Toronto Convention is remembered for its enthusiasm and
spirit. The American A.A.'s loved mingling with those from
Canada and overseas - and vice versa. It was Mike R.'s first
International Convention, and he wouldn't have gone had
he not been the Delegate from Oklahoma. "I was higher than
a kite the whole time just meeting the Canadians and the
others from all over the world - I met a lady from Ecuador,
can you imagine that?—and we'd stay up late, talking.
To see how this program had grown from where it had been,
for me when I came in, 19 years before, was just overwhelming.
When I walked out on the stage and Bill led us in reciting
"I am responsible," I was emotionally overcome."
got into the spirit, too. Harrison Trice, nonalcoholic Trustee,
walked into the bar at the Royal York Hotel and ordered
a drink. Noticing his customer's A.A. badge, the bartender
refused him. "No slips in here," he said.
pocket-sized gift edition of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
was introduced at the Convention. The film, "Bill's Own
Story" was shown for the first time to overflow audiences
throughout the weekend. And an historic precedent of another
kind occurred when Bill suggested, for the first time, that
the crowd join hands as they said the Lord's Prayer to close
the Big Meeting.
1966 General Service Conference adopted "Procedures Affecting
A.A.'s International Conventions", establishing a Site Selection
Committee to review bids and recommend three possible cities
to the Conference. A Delegate from the Committee recalls
that out of four or five bids, Seattle was the most popular
choice until Herb M. pointed out the difficulty and expense
of bringing all the people from the East at that time. Chicago
was a logical location until the Delegate, when asked if
all the groups would participate, had to acknowledge that
there were perhaps 200 groups at the time which were not
part of the service structure and were not even known to
G.S.O. So Miami was selected as the first choice, with Seattle
second, and Chicago third. The new procedure also provided
that a Conference International Convention Committee would
be appointed in 1969 (with additional members to be added
the next year) to participate in the final planning.
the Miami Convention, held July 3-5, 1970, had "the largest
assemblage of sober alcoholics the world has ever seen"
- about 11,000 registrants, in all. They came from every
state and province and, in ever-larger numbers, from 28
foreign countries with conspicuously more from Latin America.
It was Bill W.'s last Convention. Though he tried desperately
to stem his fatal emphysema in order to appear, he fell
ill the first night and was unable to be present until a
final, surprise appearance on stage on Sunday morning. (For
a full account, see Chap. 2 on GSB)
the planning was started by Herb M., Bob H. took over as
general manager in 1968 and bore the brunt of the final
arrangements and the trauma of coping simultaneously with
the huge Convention and with a very ill co-founder who was
unable to make his commitments. Cora Louise B., Convention
Secretary, assisted ably on the former front, and Dr. Jack
Norris helped with the latter. An earlier Host Committee
Chairman moved away and had been replaced by Wesley P.,
a past Delegate full of energy and innovations. He organized
no less than 1,300 Florida A.A.'s to help with greeting,
hospitality, transportation, translation of foreign languages,
registration and myriad other duties. They were identified
by a "spot of orange" and many of the key hosts wore bright
orange blazers, slacks or hats. The Convention again spilled
out of "headquarters" hotels (in this case, the Fontainebleau
and the Eden Roc) and virtually took over the town. The
Big Meetings took place at Convention Hall, and convention
goers were housed at many other hotels and motels on Miami
Beach, again requiring free bussing. This time, the Hotel
Association misappropriated the funds collected from the
$1-a-night rebate from the hotels, and, after it took the
threat of legal action to straighten out the mess, the decision
was made not to accept room rebates, even indirectly, in
by - now customary two dances - one for the young and one
for the oldsters - started the festivities on Thursday night.
But by 8:00 a.m. crowds were thronging into seven large
A.A. workshop and panel meeting rooms (and five Al-Anon)
for simultaneous programs. Over the next two-and-a-half
days, there were 75 sessions (8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.) including
a Spanish-language alkathon. Among the 29 distinguished
nonalcoholic figures who participated were Dr. Max Weisman;
Archer Tongue of the World Health Organization of the United
Nations; famous alcoholism authority Dr. Stanley Gitlow;
and Dr. Vincent Dole. Bernard Smith, filling in for Bill
W. at the last moment, made his last talk, for he died three
weeks later. The film, "Bill Discusses the Twelve Traditions"
was introduced and shown continuously. At a Delegates Luncheon
(a feature of every Convention since), every Panel from
#1 through #20 was represented. The luncheon was arranged
by Jim H., Trustee-at- large, U.S.; and chaired by Tom B.,
an effort to emulate the Toronto experience, the Big Meeting
in Convention Hall on Saturday night concluded with unison
Declaration of Unity:
we owe to A.A.'s future:
To place our common welfare first;
To keep our fellowship united.
For on A.A. unity depend our lives,
And the lives of those to come.
was an emotional and moving moment, but without Bill to
lead the ceremony, this pledge had neither the impact nor
the enduring quality of the "I Am Responsible" Declaration.
To those who attended the Miami Convention, all other memories
pale beside the overwhelming emotional moment when Bill
appeared on Sunday morning and made what proved to be his
last brief talk.
for the next International Convention began with a mailing
of bid questionnaires to all Delegates in late 1970 in accordance
with the new procedures adopted by the Conference. In 1971.,
the Delegates selected, in order of preference, Denver,
Seattle and Detroit as their choices for the 1975 Convention.
After a task force from the Trustees International Convention
Committee and the G.S.O. Planning Committee visited each
of the cities to confirm the accuracy of their presentations,
Denver was confirmed as the site. Waneta N. began her work
as Conference Secretary.
on the pattern of growth in attendance at past International
Conventions, G.S.O. estimated that 12,000 people might show
up. Space was allotted to the Big Meetings and other sessions
based on this figure, and the same assumption was used in
drawing up a Convention budget with the registration fee
set at $15—including free bussing. Denver's hotels
and motels were spread over the whole city, so a system
of loops was set up for the bus routes, requiring many more
chartered buses than ever before.
the planners underestimated growth of A.A., enthusiasm for
International Conventions, popularity of Denver as a destination
for vacations and recreation along with attending the Convention,
and perhaps the mood of the times. Mailings of flyers and
advance programs employed a graphic of mountain peaks and
the slogan "Reach New Heights of Sobriety!" and members
responded eagerly as soon as registration opened in September
1974. Within a few months, it was evident that attendance
would exceed the original estimate; and shortly thereafter,
that it would also exceed the capacity of Currigan Hall,
the largest space in the convention center where Big Meetings
were to be held. Hurriedly and in the nick of time, a sports
arena just across the street was also rented and closed
circuit TV was arranged to carry the festivities to the
overflow crowd. It turned out that the sports arena crowd
could see and hear better than most of the throng in Currigan
Hall, where the acoustics were bad. In the end, 19,300 people
registered. As the result of these unbudgeted extra registrations,
after all bills and extraordinary expenses were paid, the
Convention unexpectedly cleared $83,000 which was transferred
to the General Fund.
mass of people—pouring in by plane, car, train and
bus—seemed to take over the city as never before,
producing exhilaration and a spirit that has become a phenomenon
of all succeeding International Conventions of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Said one attendee, "Suddenly the world is topsy-turvy
because everyone you meet—on the streets, in the hotels
and restaurants, on the buses—is wearing a badge that
identifies him or her as A.A. or Al-Anon; and the "civilians"
are in the minority. To people accustomed to being anonymous
outcasts, this is exciting. And the only language spoken
on all sides is the language of the heart - in many accents
and tongues." Those Denver service people who were left
in the city on a July 4th holiday weekend got caught up
in the spirit. Cabbies and bus drivers, waiters and waitresses
loved the friendliness and good nature of the mobs. One
cab driver asked, "Is it true that you know each other?"
And the story was told once again (it may be apocryphal)
of a policeman at the back of jam-packed Currigan Hall asking
his superior officer in amazement, "Do you suppose A.A.
really works for all these people?" To which the police
commander replied fervently, "I surely hope so!"
Denver experience, July 4-6, 1975, was significant in still
another way. It was the first Convention without either
of the co-founders present, nor other giants of early A.A.
history—except, of course, Lois W. and Dr. Jack Norris.
Nevertheless, Archivist Nell wing was there to tape oral
histories from the many old-timers present. A reminder of
the origins was provided by the sale of Bill W., the biography
by Robert Thomsen, published by Harper & Row. It was
sold out by Friday noon. (Further distribution by G.S.O.
was subsequently forbidden by Conference action.
Colorado Host Committee assembled 800 volunteers to work
at the airport and the hotel lobbies, driving cars to meet
invited guests and manning the tables in the vast registration
area at Currigan Hall - where 10,000 arrivals were handled
in a single day. The volunteers got so caught up in the
spirit that some insisted on working on beyond their designated
shifts, to get the job done. Less than a year before, the
original Chairman of the Host Committee had suffered a heart
attack and had been replaced by Jack D. who performed the
task brilliantly. Also, in January 1975, Bob H., general
manager of C. S. 0. and Chairman of the Convention, realized
that it was ridiculous for G.S.O. to attempt to run one
of the world's largest conventions without professional
help - while at the same time performing its taxing day-to-day
duties. He therefore sought, and received, Board approval
to hire an outside convention consultant, Ted Driscoll,
one of the best known in the business. Driscoll took the
lead in advance meetings and negotiations with the Denver
Convention Bureau, hotels, the Convention Center, the sports
arena, and the bus company – more than paying for
his services with savings realized through his experience.
He and his staff were everywhere during the weekend, helping
things run more smoothly.
night, the conventioneers moved from mobbed hotel lobbies
to even more mobbed dances, milling around, clasping hands,
hugging and kissing one another. (Betsy P., attempting later
to explain the incredible experience to a dubious "civilian"
friend, said, "You've got to understand that they'd all
be dead if it weren't for each other.") It was immediately
obvious the shuttle bus service would have to be beefed
up (at a final cost of $36,000!) Friday and Saturday were
full of workshops, luncheon gatherings and panel sessions
- plus alkathons which were held at hotels, beginning at
8:00 a.m. and resuming at midnight after the Big Meetings.
Because of the unexpected numbers, the Convention Center
rooms were packed so tightly that sessions were repeatedly
halted by fire department and police officials until aisles
could be partially cleared of standees. Spanish - speaking
A.A.'s were delighted with workshops in that language. At
a Native American Indian meeting, a war dance was staged
in full regalia. At a huge standing-room-only "A.A. Around
the World" meeting, tears of joy were shed.
the nonalcoholic authorities invited to participate as guests
were: Dr. Max Schneider; Dr. William Rader; Dr. Nicholas
Pace, Medical Director of General Motors; Dr. Joseph Pursch,
in his Captain's uniform as Chief of the Long Beach Alcoholism
Rehabilitation Center of the U.S. Navy; and George Dimas,
Executive Director of the National Council on Alcoholism.
Two of the distinguished guests who spoke at Denver later
became nonalcoholic Trustees of the General Service Board:
Dr. Ken Williams; and Jim Estelle, Director of the Texas
Department of Corrections. Many wrote G.S.O. afterward to
say the Convention was a high point of their lives.
entrepreneur who had heard of the prodigious amount of coffee
consumed at A.A. Conventions, rigged the world's largest
coffee maker on a balcony at the convention Hall, with a
capacity of half a million cups a day. The coffee was brewed
in huge tanks or vats and piped to a bank of dozens of spigots
where the customers helped themselves after paying a quarter-a-cup
to enter the area. It worked fine and was the talk of the
Convention, but the coffee itself was judged pretty bad.
Better coffee was available free at innumerable hospitality
emotional high of the Convention was the flag ceremony which
preceded the formal opening Friday night. As spotlights
played and names of countries were called over the public
address system, the flags of 29 nations present were carried
proudly down the aisles and to the stage. Thousands of A.A.'s
rose in standing ovations and cheers, hands sore from clapping,
eyes streaming tears. The flag bearers then stepped to the
microphone and repeated the Conference theme, "Let It Begin
With Me," in his or her native tongue. The spectacle—which
had been conceived by Kleina Jones of G.S.O. and executed
by Ted Driscoll and volunteers - was such a resounding success
that it became a fixture of future International Conventions.
auditorium was a thrilling sight, as well. The dais was
draped in blue and white, and centered over it was the biggest
Big Book ever (28 feet high). Revolving panels on either
side showed giant photos of Bill and Dr. Bob and the Steps,
Traditions, Serenity Prayer and Responsibility Declaration.
than 320 speakers took part in the weekend. Among those
on Friday night were Bill C. of Boston, a past Trustee;
and Cec C., of Saskatchewan, a future Trustee. The Spiritual
Meeting Sunday morning, chaired by Al S., heard Rev. Yev
C. of Long Island; Chuck C. of Laguna Beach, California;
and a marvelous talk by Lois W., who may have received the
most tumultuous reception of her ovation-filled lifetime.
By the time of the Denver ConventIon, certain policies with
regard to the A.A. speakers were firmly established. They
are selected from among those who register in advance. Opinions
of Delegates and Trustees are solicited, but the final decisions
are made by the G.S.O. planning committee, subject to the
Trustee Committee's approval, as the G.S.O staff has the
largest over-all acquaintance with A.A. speakers. Also,
in keeping with A.A.'s custom of rotation, no speaker is
invited to make a major talk a second time.
Orleans was chosen as the site of the 45th Anniversary International
Convention, July 3-6, 1980. The memory of the thousands
in Denver who had paid their registration fee only to be-unable
to attend sessions because of the crowds weighed heavily
on the G. S. 0. planning committee—Bob P., Convention
Chairman; Betty L., Convention Secretary; and Dennis Manders,
among others. So they thought big. Budgeting was based on
an anticipated attendance of 25,000—which seemed reasonable
in light of experience. And a record 180 sessions were planned
to be held in large "quadrant" rooms at the New Orleans
Superdome, the Rivergate Convention Center and most major
hotels. An ambitious schedule of regional, state and provincial
alkathons was mounted as well. So there were as many as
10 events occurring simultaneously at any one time—plenty
of places to go and chairs to sit on this time! The gigantic
Superdome was the quintessential locale for the Big Meetings:
seating 70,000 in total, half blocked off for the A.A. meetings;
air conditioned; tiered so everyone had a clear view of
the stage and with 16-foot TV screens to bring the speakers
close up; and a perfect acoustical system, in contrast to
the Denver disaster.
Orleans was blessed with many large hotels clustered in
the downtown area within minutes of the Superdome or the
Rivergate Center. However, the workshops, panel meetings,
luncheons and alkathons were also spread all over downtown,
and conventioneers still had to be housed in outlying areas,
so bussing was again provided—at a high cost. Airfares
were raised after the budgeting had been done, increasing
transportation costs for staff, WSM Delegates and invited
guests. And the 1979 Conference mandated that simultaneous
translation services be provided free of charge at the Big
the other side of the ledger, the registration fee was held
at $15, the same as Denver - largely at the insistence of
the Chairman, who wanted to avoid another surplus. So a
deficit budget was projected, going in. Then two things
happened that cut attendance drastically and produced a
record number of "no-shows." The first was that the economy—particularly
in the midsection of the U.S.—took a downturn. . Money
for trips was tight. And just before Convention time, a
record heat—wave swept Texas and Louisiana, causing
widespread discomfort and some deaths.
a result, registrations in New Orleans totaled 22,500—another
all-time record, but still significantly below the 25,000
projected. The sum total of all these factors was that the
Convention lost $208,000. (See also Chap. 2 on CSB)
of course, in no way deterred the convention-goers from
all over the world from celebrating their "Joy of Living"
(the Convention theme) in an unforgettable weekend of Fellowship,
love and inspiration. The large contingents of A.A.'s from
other countries were more noticeable than ever - many from
Mexico, Central and South America because of the location,
but including on this occasion all the delegates from the
just-completed Sixth World Service Meeting. Thirty-three
countries took part in the flag ceremony on Friday evening
in the Superdome. The backdrop for the stage was a 30-foot
high world map outlined on a blue background. And as the
flag-bearers spoke the theme in their varied languages,
lights began to twinkle on the map wherever A.A. existed
around the world. The assembled thousands burst into prolonged
applause. Simultaneous translation of the Big Meetings was
provided in Spanish, French and German.
had started the previous evening with a genuine Mardi Gras
parade staged for A.A. by a New Orleans "krewe" complete
with masked dancers, elaborate costumes and spectacular
floats. The parade wound its way with difficulty through
the crowds packed into the Rivergate Center. And a surprise
appearance on the final float of Cec C., Chairman of the
Trustees' International Convention Committee, clad in a
leopard-skin loincloth, brought forth cheers, jeers and
guffaws. After the parade was cleared away, dancing began
at Rivergate and a nearby hotel.
the throngs streamed into the Superdome on Friday and Saturday
evening, they were greeted with New Orleans jazz by live
bands. Famed Bourbon Street turned into "ice cream and coffee"
street as mobs of A.A.'s overran it—with signs in
the windows of the jazz spots and strip joints proclaiming
the change! The hotels also set up ice cream bars in their
New Orleans Convention was the first to have a genuine "Marathon
Meeting," held at one of the hotels, which started at midnight
on Thursday with the lighting of a candIe which burned continuously—as
the meeting also continued without stopping—until
Sunday morning. And the room was-usually filled and overflowing,
no matter what the hour. New Orleans was also the first
Convention to have a workshop and hospitality center for
gay and lesbian members. An Archives workshop was inaugurated
and drew great interest. The film "A.A.—an Inside
View" was introduced at continuous showings, along with
other A.A. films. At the Big Meetings, sections were set
aside for the physically handicapped and the hearing impaired,
the latter provided with sign-language interpreters. As
it is usually difficult for the huge crowds to find eating
places in time to arrive early at Big Meetings, catered
meals featuring native New Orleans dishes were offered at
the Superdome - but the experiment was not a great success.
record number of sessions involved a record number of speakers
- about 600. Perhaps the most notable was Marty M., the
longest-sober woman in A.A. Now advanced in years and in
ill health, she had not planned to attend. But Betty L.
entreated her to come, promising she would receive special
care every moment. So at the last minute, Marty accepted;
and Don A., past Trustee from Texas, provided the constant
solicitude. Marty was her old self as she delivered a rousing
and moving talk to a large women's meeting. Throughout the
weekend, she enjoyed accolades and love from thousands,
and a few weeks after returning home to Connecticut, she
the 21 nonalcoholic guests were Dan Anderson, Director of
Hazelden (See Chap. 15) and Don Luftig, a network television
producer. At the opening meeting Friday night, a politician
invited to make "a few welcoming remarks" almost lost the
audience when she harangued on and on for 20 minutes. But
the A.A. meeting which followed featured three outstanding
speakers: Shadrack K., a Zulu from South Africa (See Chap.
8); Margaret C., the beautiful past Trustee from Massachusetts;
and Sandy B. from Washington, D.C. Sunday morning, the audience
heard Johnny H. from California, who found A.A. in prison;
Joyce C, from England; and Mac C. from Winnepeg, Manitoba,
who, fatally ill with cancer, gave what many people called
"the finest A.A. talk I ever heard."
other surprises at the Big Meeting Sunday were even more
memorable. Lois W. made an appearance, to the crowd's delight.
Roberto C., from Italy, presented her with the first copy
of the Big Book in the Italian language. Kieth C., Chairman
of the Marathon Meeting, bore the marathon candle to the
stage, where it was blown out by "Pete," sober just two
days. A drunk off the street, Pete had stopped a conventioneer
and inquired what the badge meant. He was Twelfth Stepped
on the spot and was led to the Marathon Meeting, where he
sobered up. The Superdome crowd gave him a deafening hand.
And a speaker not on the program at all stepped to the microphone
and said, "My name is Bob S., and I'm in Al-Anon." The audience
looked at each other, frowning, curious. The speaker continued,
"I am probably the only person here today who was present
when Bill met Dr. Bob." A gasp went through the crowd. "I
am Dr.Bob's only son!" The crowd burst into sudden tears
and wild applause.
Conventions, besides providing spiritual experiences to
large numbers of Alcoholics Anonymous members along with
inspiration and great enjoyment, also have been a vehicle
for "attraction" through tremendous coverage in the press.
Stories on wire services, in newspapers and magazines, on
radio and television, make the country—and even the
world—aware of A.A. every five years. They demonstrate
vividly and convincingly that A.A. works. And they show
that life after sobriety—i.e., recovery in Alcoholics
Anonymous - is not grim and bleak but can be enormous fun.
In St.Louis, Long Beach and Toronto, the press room was
handled by the ubiquitous Ralph B. (See also Chaps. 2 on
GEB and 9 on GSO); in Miami, Denver and New Orleans, by
Walter M. Both were public relations professionals as well
as A.A. members, and fat scrapbooks in the Archives attest
to the contribution they made.
by the roller-coaster finances of International Conventions
over the years, Dennis Manders evaluates them from his viewpoint.
"By 1960, the concept of having a big Convention every five
years was pretty thoroughly locked in because their benefits
were obvious. In fact, they are beyond estimate. If you
chart the five-year cycles, as I have, you'll see a tremendous
spurt of growth in the Fellowship in the year following
the Convention. Contributions shoot up and sales shoot up,
and then they gradually drop down to the point where another
Convention comes along, and they bounce back up again. And
from recent Conventions we get so much good press coverage,
it's got to have an enormous impact on the growth of A.A.
So even if a Convention suffers a loss, as it did in. 1980,
you should balance that against what it would cost to accomplish
the same results by some other means. I think it would cost
a lot more, to do it through promotion - only we don't promote.
The Conventions also seem to renew the spirit of the Fellowship,
too - and the value of that is inestimable."
50th A.A. Anniversary International Convention of Alcoholics
Anonymous, held in Montreal, Canada in 1985—and the
state of the Fellowship on its Golden Anniversary—is
the subject of the following, and final, chapter.