With the passing of Sandy B. this week, I couldn’t help but think about all of the great “old-timers” that have made a lasting impression on me during my recovery. There is certainly a sense of sadness and loss when one of our “tall poles” moves on from this world. The amazing aspect of our organization is that when we lose someone like Sandy, there have been others who are ready to step up and try to fill those shoes. I went to my library and selected a book containing the stories of 20 such individuals. (1000 Years of Sobriety ~ 20 x 50 Years by Michael Fitzpatrick) I opened the book to the section about Clancy I. As I read through his story, I came a part where he talks about the “old-timers” of his day:
“Every five years, Alcoholics Anonymous holds an international convention. I’ve attended all of them except for the first two. The very first one was held in Cleveland in 1950. At that convention the traditions were accepted by the fellowship as a part of AA. Historically speaking, that act has proven to be one of the greatest things to happen to AA.
On that same day another significant event took place. Co-founder Dr. Bob gave what is referred to today as the “farewell message.” He was very sick at the time and knew he would live only a short time longer. The cancer had taken over.
Dr. Bob stood up to the microphone and suggested that we “keep this simple.” He then made several very important points: “Let’s not louse it all up with Freudian complexes and things that are interesting to the scientific mind, but have very little to do with our actual AA work. Our twelve steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words ‘love’ and ‘service.”” He continued, “Also let us remember to guard that erring member-the tongue-and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance.”
He made a few more brief comments, suggesting that we remember to pat the new man on the back and take him to a meeting or two. He also warned us against complacency. I have enjoyed listening to recordings of Dr. Bob’s words over the years.
In 1970, I was invited to speak at the international convention in Miami. Bill Wilson was scheduled to speak on Friday night, but an announcement was made that he wouldn’t be able to make it. He was too ill. Everyone, including me, was very disappointed.
On the way back to my hotel that night, I said to a guy, “Gee, it’s really too bad that we won’t be hearing Bill.” This man replied, “Clancy, let me tell you something. Before this conference is over, we will hear from Bill W.” This guy was an old-timer from Ohio, I just smiled knowing he must have missed the announcement.
Saturday came and went and, of course, Bill W. never showed up. He was in the hospital, very close to death. On Sunday morning we were sitting in the auditorium while Dr. Jack Norris was speaking. Someone walked up to the podium and said something to him. He stopped speaking and music started playing. He said, “Folks, we have a special guest who has just arrived.”
Bill Wilson was pushed out from behind the curtain in his wheelchair. At the podium, he slowly pulled himself erect. It took almost everything he had, his body was so frail, but he stood there looking out at the sea of faces and gave a short talk. He then returned to the hospital by way of ambulance. Once I had witnessed this, I understood why the old-timer was so sure Bill W. would speak at the convention. It was Bill’s last time to let the membership know how much he loved them.
What remarkable men Bill and Dr. Bob were! Because of their efforts and this God-inspired program of AA, millions of people have found sobriety and a new way of life. The example set by both of these founders right up until their last days have been an inspiration to me for many years. As I continue to travel around the world sharing my experience, strength and hope with others, as best I can as a fallible human, I pray my example will help reflect the love and dedication of those who traveled the road before me.
AA is really just one alcoholic talking with another alcoholic. My mission has been, and will continue to be, to carry the message to others even when they don’t yet quite believe it, knowing that when someone takes the action necessary, the day will come when they too can be safe, sane, and sober. It is in giving that we receive, and I have received abundantly for fifty-one years.”
Sandy actually passed away while at an AA meeting. He, like the men mentioned in Clancy’s story, gave of themselves right up to their last days. I take comfort in knowing that there are many others in this glorious program that are still willing to do the same.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Michael Fitzpatrick’s book “1000 Years of Sobriety 20 x 50 Years,” it is available on Amazon: