The Rockefeller Dinner – February 8, 1940

The Rockefeller Dinner – February 8, 1940


Of the one hundred eighty-seven invitations that were sent out, one hundred and twenty-seven people sent their regrets. Sixty people responded in the affirmative, including the members of AA.

Of the sixty who attended, several were or became, great friends of the A.A. movement.  These included: Frank Amos, Gordon Auchincloss, Dr. R. E. Blaisdell, A. Leroy Chipman, Leonard V. Harrison, Dr. Foster Kennedy, Dr. W. D. Silkworth, Dr. Leonard V. Strong, Jr. and Wendell L. Wilkie.  

Among the A.A. members who attended were Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith from Akron, Fitz Mayo from Washington, D. C., Bert Taylor and Bill Rudell from New York and Clarence Snyder from Cleveland.

Bill Discusses the Development of the Rockefeller Dinner

After the meeting in Akron in the Fall of 1937, I went back to New York as we say, all steamed up. I then made the dismal discovery that the very rich who had the money that we needed had not the slightest interest in drunks, they just didn’t give a damn. I solicited and I solicited and I became very worried. I even approached the Rockefeller Foundation, you know, I figured John D. would have an interest in alcoholism, sociology, medicine and religion and this should just fit the bill. But no, we didn’t fit into any category with the Rockefeller Foundation and they felt a little poor at the time what with the depression.  One day I’m in my brother-in-law’s office, he a doctor. I was moaning about the stinginess of the rich, our need for money and how it looked like this thing wasn’t going to go anywhere. He said, “Have you tried the Rockefeller Foundation.” And I told him that I had. “Well,” he said, “it might help if you saw Mr. Rockefeller personally.” I said, “Dr. Winn, I don’t want to seem facetious, but could you recommend me to the Prince of Wales, he might help out too.” And then came one of those strange turns of fate, if you like, or providence, if you prefer and the slender thread was this, My brother-in-law the doctor sat there scratching his head and he said, “When I was a young fellow I used to go to school with a girl and I think the girl had a uncle and it seemed to me that his name was Willard Richardson and it seems he was a pretty old guy and he might be dead now but it does seem to me that he had something to do with the Rockefeller charities. Supposing I call the Rockefeller offices and see if he is around and if he would remember me. He called this dear old gentleman on the phone, one of the greatest nonalcoholic friends that A.A. ever had. Immediately he remembered my brother-in-law and said, “Leonard where have you been all these years. I’d love to see you.”

Unlike me, my brother-in-law is a man of very few words and he rather tensely explained that he had a relative who was trying to help alcoholics and was making some headway and could we come over to Mr. Rockefeller’s offices and talk about it. “Why certainly,” said the old man, and soon we were in the presence of this wonderful Christian gentleman who was incredibly one of John D’s closest friends. When I saw that I thought that now we are really getting close to the bankroll and the old man asked me a few shrewd questions and I told the yarn so far as it had been spun. Then he said, “Mr. Wilson, would you like to come to lunch with me early next week.” Oh boy, would I. Now we were really getting warm. So we had lunch and at the lunch he said, “I know of three or four fellows who would be real interested in this. I’ll get a meeting together with them as they are friends or are associated with Mr. Rockefeller and some were recently on a committee, which recently recommended the discontinuance of the prohibition experiment.

So presently, several of us alcoholics, Smitty and a couple from Akron, some of the boys from New York, found ourselves sitting in the company of these friends of Mr. Rockefeller in Mr. Rockefeller’s private boardroom. In fact, In fact I was told that  I was sitting in a chair that Mr. Rockefeller had sat in only a half-hour before. I though, now we are really getting hot.

Well, we were nonplussed, a little lost for words, so each of us alkies just started telling his story. Our new friends listened with rapt attention and then with reluctance and modesty I brought up the subject of money and at once you see that God has worked through many people to shape our destiny. At once, Mr. Scott who had sat at the head of the table said, “I am deeply impressed and moved by what has been said here but aren’t you boys afraid that if you had money you might create a professional class, aren’t you afraid that the management of plants, properties and hospitals would distract you from your purely good will aims.” Well, we admitted, we had certainly thought of those difficulties. They had been urged upon us by some of our own members, but we felt that the risk of not doing these things was greater than the risk of doing at least some of them. “At least,” we said, “Mr. Scott, this society needs a book in which we can record our experience so that the alcoholics at a distance can know what has happened.”

One of the gentlemen said that he would go out to Akron and we kind of steered him that way as the mortgage on the Smith’s house was bigger than mine and he went out to Akron and came back with a glowing report which Mr. Richardson placed in front of Mr. Rockefeller. This marked another turning point. After hearing the story and reading the report on Akron Group No.1, Mr. Rockefeller expressed his deep interest and feelings about us. “But Dick,” he said, “If we give these fellows real money its going to spoil them and it will change the whole complexion. Maybe you fellows think it needs money and if you do go ahead and get them up some.” He said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll put a small sum in the Riverside Church treasury and you can draw it out and at least try to help these two men for a while but this thing should be self sustaining. Money, Dick, will spoil it.” What a profound realization. God did not work through us but through Mr. Rockefeller whose every interest we had actually claimed from that moment. This man who had devoted his life to giving away money said “not this time.” And he never did give us real money, praise God. (Chicago, Ill., February1951)


Willard Richardson had provided the access to the Rockefeller millions that may have led to the very downfall of Alcoholics Anonymous. Wiser heads prevailed, and the great Rockefeller gift to AA was credibility. Additionally, the Rockefeller people established, and served on the Alcoholic Foundation.

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