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Years With Gratitude
8:00 p.m. Friday night, July 5, 1985, Montreal's huge
Olympic Stadium was jammed to the roof with 50,000 shouting,
screaming, unbelievably exuberant members of Alcoholics
Anonymous and their families. For two hours, sleek, clean
subways had disgorged trainload after trainload of smiling,
excited people who had surged up the wide ramp to the stadium
lobby and on up the stairs and into the stands, scrambling
for the best remaining seats. Now, with music blaring from
the loudspeakers, they were expending their energy by rhythmically
standing and raising their arms in waves that swept round
and round the stadium. The 36 participants in the evening's
program had assembled in the atrium and now wafted in an
entranceway for their cue. As they stepped out onto the
grass and began the long walk to the mammoth stage erected
at "second base," a sustained, ear-splitting
roar arose. A new Trustee in the walking group turned to
his companion and shouted in order to be heard above the
noise, "I've never heard anything like this
in all my life!"
soon as the dais group was seated, the flag ceremony began.
As an offstage announcer boomed out the names of the countries,
the flags of 53 nations represented at the Convention were
paraded proudly forth as a full band played their national
tunes. The 50,000 throats cheered madly as each country
was named, with the loudest and longest ovations going to
Canada, the U.S., Ireland (always!) and loudest of all for
Poland, the newest newcomer. When all the flags were massed
on the field, they represented nearly half the 114 countries
around the world where Alcoholics Anonymous was to be found
the tumult subsided in expectancy, Bob P., Chairman of the
Convention, stepped to the podium, gazed out at the assemblage,
and uttered the familiar words, "Welcome to the regular
Friday night Montreal meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous."
The crowd roared back its appreciation. The 50th Anniversary
International Convention of A.A. was officially opened.
the timing of the Convention rendered it the denouement
of a celebration which had begun months before and peaked
up on June 10, the day that marked the Golden Anniversary
of A.A.'s founding. A.A. groups across the U.S. and
Canada and in many foreign lands held birthday celebrations
of their own—or would do so later in the year. The U.S.
Congress and many state legislatures marked the event with
speeches or resolutions. (Vermont took special pride in
claiming both co-founders as native sons.) Almost every
newspaper and magazine, every radio and television station
had carried some favorable article, editorial or program
about the Fellowship, and in Montreal a large company of
press representatives had gathered to cover the Convention.
for this moment had begun over four years before, of course,
when Montreal, Quebec, Canada, was selected over San Diego
and Minneapolis from among about eight bidding cities to
be the site of this historic Convention. Denis L., Quebec
Delegate who made the presentation, was persuasive in describing
Montreal's many attractions: its architectural and
natural beauty, its picturesque and historic Old Town, its
many hotels and fine restaurants, and its state-of-the-art
Palais des Congres (i.e., Convention Center) under construction.
Denis was initially appointed Chairman of the Host Committee,
but eventually proved unable to understand his function
vis-a-vis the Trustees' Committee and G.S.O. In August
1984 he was replaced by Pierre P., a bi-lingual past Delegate.
It seemed to the G.S.O., disadvantaged as they were by the
language barrier, that the Quebecois Host Committee was
hopelessly undermanned and disorganized as late as the spring
of 1985, but when the time came, over 1,300 spirited, helpful
and enthusiastic volunteers turned out, identifiable by
sailor-straws with tricolor bands, and were unquestionably
one of the hits of the celebration.
Quebecois insistence on using the French language, together
with their volatility and unreliability, led to a plethora
of frustrating problems in planning and logistics. Dennis
Manders explains, "When a local official gave his
word on something, it didn't seem to mean a thing.
Promises were easily made but then forgotten. The head of
the Olympic Stadium was a political appointment, as it is
in many places, and the person seemed to change every year,
so we were always starting over in trying to negotiate a
legal lease. The deal was further complicated by a $75,000
subsidy fund offered by the Provincial government which
A.A. could not accept, of course; but it was channeled to
the Montreal Convention Bureau, who used it to reduce the
otherwise exorbitant rental of the stadium. Only they could
never get a line on the money till very late in the game.
We went back and forth for four years before we had a signed
worse, the Convention Bureau, who handled all our housing
and who was supposed to help in many other ways, was also
political and went through a number of reorganizations.
Sometimes we couldn't find anyone to call to complain
about having no one to call! We had hired a local French-speaking
convention consultant to be our liaison, but he turned out
to be slippery at best, or dishonest at worst, and got in
a snarl with the Host Committee Chairman and caused us a
lot of headaches."
the positive side, Dennis and Ed Gordon were able to engage
and outside firm to computerize the handling of registration
and housing requests and the production of name tags, so
that operation went more smoothly than ever before.
1984, it was learned that Montreal's hoteliers, restaurateurs
and, indeed, everyone connected with tourism, had grave
misgivings and negative expectations regarding the upcoming
invasion of A.A.'s. Associating gaiety with wine,
they couldn't picture an A.A. convention as anything
but somber, sad and dull. A meeting was hurriedly organized
of all the parties involved, including the press, for the
specific purpose of correcting these misapprehensions and
giving them a pep talk. The effort was apparently successful,
because Montreal gave A.A. a rousing, warm and friendly
welcome and seemed to enjoy the whole exuberant scene.
Bob P. and Dennis Manders, the persons most involved with
the Convention were Sarah P., Convention Secretary, at the
center of the activity, coordinating everyone's efforts,
with a hand on every detail, who came perilously close to
a nervous breakdown from the strain in the final months;
and Ken D., from New Brunswick, Canada, Chairman of the
Trustees' International Convention Committee, a responsible,
spiritual and ever-helpful man.
the beginning, Montrealers were talking about "50,000 on
our 50th birthday," but no one took them seriously. After
the New Orleans experience, and following the Conference
direction to make all future Conventions self-supporting,
it seemed prudent to budget on the basis of 28,000 registrations,
with the fee set at $30. Even before registration opened
in September 1984, there were rumors of large-scale plans
for tour groups to come to Montreal by plane, bus, train
and cruise ship. Apparently A.A.'s in unprecedented numbers
were planning to help celebrate "50 Years with Gratitude"
(the Convention theme.) By January, the. 28,000 estimate
was passed. And still the flood of registrations swelled,
with additional thousands of on-site registrations a certainty.
Downtown hotel space disappeared and previously untapped
motels at the airports and in surrounding towns were pressed
into service. People were housed in university dormitories
and Laurentian resorts, and finally as- far away as Sherbrooke
(90 miles) and Burlington, Vermont (75 miles). The final
count was 45,000 registrations (35,000 A.A. and 10,000 Al-Anon)
plus family members and other guests. The immense block-square
area of the ground floor of the Palais des Congres was devoted
to the registration process, which went amazingly quickly
and smoothly, and to booths offering souvenir books. The
16,000 copies of the souvenir book produced by A.A.W.S.
were gone by Friday afternoon; plus, by Sunday, 1,000 copies
of the new edition of the Big Book in French, 2,200 of La
Vigne's souvenir booklet in French, and 3,600 of "The Best
of the Grapevine."
opening receptions cum dances on Thursday night occupied
the most spacious rooms in the city, on the second floor
of the Palais des Congres and the grand ballroom of the
Palladium Hotel. But they were totally inadequate for 50,000
people. After 6,000 had been admitted to the Palais, the
concrete structure began literally to shudder with the rhythm
of the band. The escalators were quickly shut down and further
admittance denied until people began to leave, make room
for those still waiting. At LeGrand Hotel, the Marathon
Meetings in English and French began at midnight in rooms
holding several hundred and ran continuously day and night
until 8:00 a.m. Sunday. It became a common sight to see
young people sleeping in the corridors and lobbies—and
even on the lawn outside—at the LeGrand, as they moved
in and out of the Marathon at all hours. And the hotel management
was amazingly tolerant.
Friday morning, the Palais lived up to its advance billing,
handling an endless flow of people in and out of workshops
and panel meetings—plus multiple alkathons and special
meetings at five nearby hotels—on every conceivable
subject and for every conceivable A.A. interest, over 90
sessions in all: Meetings for doctors in A.A., lawyers in
A.A., "Birds of a Feather," loners and internationalists,
native people, deaf, handicapped, young people and homosexuals.
Workshops on Steps, Traditions, the Grapevine. anonymity.
A marathon Big Book seminar. Panels and workshops on A.A.
in prisons, treatment centers, industry; A.A. and the medical
profession, the clergy, outside agencies, the courts, the
media. A single Saturday afternoon workshop on sponsorship,
with Clancy I. from California as the principal speaker,
drew an S.R.O. audience of about 4,000! The Archives workshop,
with Mike R. of Oklahoma, Dr. Jack Norris, and Ruth Hock
(Crecelius), was "the thrill of a lifetime," according to
the Palais des Congres about a block away was a Seagram
distillery. During the entire A.A. Convention, its flag
flew at half-mast!
morning several hundred members, old and young, male and
female, expressed their gratitude for sobriety by taking
part in a five-kilometer "Fun Run" through Old
Montreal. As the throng bobbed along through the picturesque
streets along the river, they whooped and waved and joked
about how different this was from the bad old days.
aspect that distinguished the Montreal Convention program
from others was the consistent emphasis on A.A.'s
origins, history and early days. Panels related how A.A.
began in the U.S., in Canada, in Europe, in Latin America
and elsewhere. There were meetings called "Pioneers"
and "Golden Oldies." "You really had the
grand oldtimers there! And that's what 'made
it' for me!" exclaimed one conventioneer admiringly.
He was speaking of Capt. Jack S., who started the loners
and internationalists in the 1940's and helped plant
the A.A. seed on many foreign shores; Roy Y., who had the
amazing record of helping A.A. take root in Texas, Southern
California and Florida; Eve M., the early G.S.O. staff member;
Paul G., one of the first members in San Francisco; Clarence
R. from Atlanta, Elmer H. from Saskatchewan, Gerry D. from
New Jersey and others.
the 21 nonalcoholic guest authorities were Dr. Robert Niven,
Director of the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol
Abuse (NIAAA) in Washington, D.C.; Maude Fairbanks, of the
University of Utah School on Alcoholism; Betsy Anderson
from Public Broadcasting station WGBH in Boston; Mary Bernstein,
Manager of Employee Assistance for G.T.E. in Stamford, Conn.;
Lee Belford, PhD., formerly of the New York University School
of Theology; Amos Reed of the Department of Corrections
for the state of Washington; Jim O'Sullivan, Warden
of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary; Dr. George Valliant of
the Dartmouth University School of Medicine; etc., etc.
multitude that filled Olympic Stadium Friday night, already
had a day of these meetings behind them as they settled
down to enjoy the opening ceremonies and the Big Meeting
to follow. Bob P. set the tone by reminding them, as Bill
W. had done, that—although we celebrate June 10 as
the founding of A.A.—its roots go back to Dr. Carl
Jung, who told Rowland H. that his recovery depended on
"a transforming experience of the spirit. This is the "A.A.
message" that was carried by Rowland, after his own recovery
in the Oxford Groups, to Ebby T., who carried it to Bill
W., who carried it to Dr. Bob - and it is that light in
the darkness that we bring to newcomers today.
Chairman then introduced the honored guests on the great
stage: The 21 Trustees of the General Service Board. Trustees
Emeritus Dr. Jack Norris and Milton Maxwell, both of them
so important in A.A.'s history. Dennis Manders and
Nell Wing, who had served G.S.O. and A.A. for 35 years.
Ken S. from Kansas City, 44 years sober at age 89, the only
person known (other than Lois W.) to have been at every
A.A. International Convention, including the one in 1945..
Bob S. and Sue Windows, Dr. Bob's children.
of the Convention's locale, it was hoped that Dave
B., founder of A.A. in Quebec, could be honored, but he
had died only weeks before. So he was honored in memory
and his family was introduced. Also, Dr. Travis Dancey,
first nonalcoholic Trustee from Canada and the physician
who first tried to carry the message to Dave B., was introduced
and spoke briefly. Ruth Hock, Bill W.'s first nonalcoholic
secretary, was introduced to tremendous applause and was
presented, by Trustee Chairman Gordon Patrick, with the
5,000,000th copy of the Big Book, the manuscript of which
she had typed 47 years before! Finally, Lois W., Bill's
widow and First Lady of Al-Anon, was escorted to the podium.
The entire stadium stood as one, and the roar and ovation
were deafening. A diminutive white-haired figure at age
93, Lois' speaking voice was strong and she completely
charmed the huge audience. Accidentally turning two pages
of her manuscript at once, she alertly turned back and made
a joke of it!
the crowd already drained from emotion, it was time for
the opening A.A. meeting. As a bow to the host province,
a bi¬lingual Quebecois, Guy G., spoke first. Next, Sybil
C., the longest-sober woman A.A. member (44 years), told
of the colorful beginnings of the Fellowship in Los Angeles.
The meeting closed with past Trustee Dave C. of North Carolina
delivering a powerful message.
the words of the Big Meetings were translated simultaneously
from English into French, Spanish and German, and were signed
for the hearing impaired seated in a special section.
mighty as the multitude in the stadium was that night, there
were probably 50' A.A.'s in meetings back home
for every one in Montreal. For in 1985 there were over 67,000
A.A. groups registered at G.S.O. in New York, or at other
G.S.O.'s elsewhere in the world (and probably tens
of thousands not registered). The total reported and estimated
current membership was 1,446,000—not including the
countless members, perhaps long' sober but not reported
by any group, who exist anonymously in the fabric of society.
About 33,840 of the known groups were in the U.S.; 4,445
the moving "A.A. Around the World" meeting on
Friday in Montreal, members called up to speak were from
(among other places) Italy, Australia, Sri Lanka, Japan,
Finland, Korea, Turkey, India, Poland and Trinidad. But
this only symbolized the more than 644,000 reported and
estimated members currently active in over 27,000 groups
recorded at 34 overseas service offices.
meeting at the Palais on A.A. in prisons took note of the
fact that there were 1,680 groups behind the walls in the
U.S. and Canada alone, with at least 50,400 members. And
the meeting of lone members and internationalists represented
more than 1,300 others with whom G.S.O./New York is in touch.
the 11 G.S.O. staff members and 10 other administrative,,
managerial, financial and stenographic people from the office
who helped man the Convention in Montreal, there were 71
left New York to carry on with their regular duties. All
99 employees of the General Service Office had a hand in
some way in putting on the great event. Similarly, four
A.A. members of the Grapevine staff chaired workshops, manned
the booth and otherwise were available in Montreal, while
another 13 kept the office going at 468 Park Ave., So.
not one in 500 conventioneers, intent as they were on fellowship
and enjoyment, were aware of the size of the services necessary
to carry the message and assure A.A.'s future. It
took $5,626,000 to run the General Service Office in 1985.
Of this, A.A. groups and members contributed $2,378,828
- but this generous amount came from only a little over
half the groups recorded at G.S.O. The remainder came from
the income from the sale of A.A. literature. The quantity
of literature distributed in 1985 was in itself an astonishing
measure of how far the Fellowship had come since those struggling
days when Ruth Hock typed the manuscript of the Big Book:
696,300 copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (2,700 every working
day!) and over one and a half million books and booklets
in all. Over 6,860,000 pamphlets and 1,255 other items.
And this was only the English - language literature in U.S./Canada;
it did not include books and pamphlets in 13 other languages.
1985 Grapevine circulation stood at 127,000 and financially
it broke even.
threatening rain held off until after the spectacular entertainment
show—complete with French can-can girls and Philadelphia
Mummers—was over at the stadium on Saturday night. Then,
on Sunday morning, most of the 50,000 returned once more
for the concluding Spiritual Meeting, surely one of the
finest in anyone's memory. Chaired by Betty L., it
began with beautiful sharing from Walter S. from Guatemala.
Then lovely Liz J., widow of the former Chairman of the
Service Board of New Zealand gave a talk that was "pure
program." The closing speaker was Joe McQ., the first black
A.A. member in Arkansas, with a soaring, spiritual message.
As the multitude stood, hands linked, and recited the Lord's
Prayer in mighty unison, eyes glistened and throats choked.
Then smiles burst forth everywhere and people hugged each
other as they said "I don't want it to end!" and bade
good-bye. There was even dancing in the aisles. Back in
the city, the regular meetings were wall-to-wall with visitors
trying to keep the celebration going, and in the plaza in
front of the closed and locked Palais des Congres, impromptu
meetings were held.
steady procession of cars streamed back across the border
Sunday afternoon. As one of them stopped at the custom gates,
a Canadian officer leaned from his booth and asked, "What's
been going on up there? I've never seen so many happy
all those who celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Alcoholics
Anonymous in Montreal were old-timers. One young man, a
newcomer in July 1985, who had never attended any A.A. Convention
much less an International, was there. Many months later,
a friend who had seen him in Montreal ran into him again
at a meeting back home. "What did you think of it?" he asked!
The new man looked down at the floor a moment, and when
he raised his head, his eyes were moist and he replied softly,
"I will never be the same again. I will just never be the
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