During the Convention many just plain A.A. meetings were held. At those meetings, and in the corridors, coffee shops, and hotel rooms, we were continually and gratefully thoughtful of our friends and of all that Providence had appointed them to do for us. Our thoughts often went out to those who were not there: those who had passed on, those who were ill, and those who just couldn’t make it. Among the latter we sorely missed Trustees Jack Alexander, Frank Amos, Dr. Leonard Strong, Jr., and Frank Gulden.
Most of all, of course, we talked about co-founder Dr. Bob and his wife, Anne. A handful of us could recall those first days in 1935 at Akron where the spark that was to become the first A.A. group was struck. Some of us could retell tales that had been told in Dr. Bob’s living room in their house on Ardmore Avenue. And we could remember Anne as she sat in the corner by the fireplace, reading from the Bible the warning of James, that “faith without works is dead.” Indeed, we had with us at the Convention young Bob and sister Sue, who had seen the beginnings of A.A.’s first group. Sue’s husband, Ernie, A.A. number four, was there, too. And old Bill D., A.A. number three, was represented by his widow, Henrietta.
We were all overjoyed to see Ethel, the longest-sober lady of the Akron-Cleveland region, whose moving story can now be read in the second edition of the A.A. book. She reminded us of all the early Akron veterans—a dozen and a half of them—whose stories were the backbone of the first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and who, together with Dr. Bob, had created the first A.A. group in the world.
As the stories unfolded we saw Dr. Bob entering the doors of St. Thomas Hospital, the first religious hospital to receive prospective members of A.A. for treatment on a regular basis. Here there developed that great partnership between Dr. Bob and the incomparable Sister Ignatia8of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. Her name brings to mind the classic story about the first drunk she and Dr. Bob treated. Sister Ignatia’s night supervisor wasn’t very keen about alcoholics, especially the d.t. variety, and Dr. Bob had arrived with a request for a private room for his first customer. Sister Ignatia said to him, “Doctor, we do not have any beds, much less private rooms, but I will do what I can.” And then into the hospital’s flower room she slyly bootlegged A.A.’s first jittering candidate for admission. From this uncertain start of hospitalization in our pioneering time, we watched the growing procession of alcoholic sufferers as they passed through the doors of St. Thomas and out into the world again, most of them never to return to the hospital except as visitors. From 1939 to the time Dr. Bob took his leave of us in 1950, over 5,000 had thus been treated. And so the ministry of Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, Sister Ignatia, and Akron’s early timers set an example for the practice of A.A.’s Twelve Steps that will remain for all time.
This great tradition lives on in the person of Sister Ignatia. She continues her labor of love today at Cleveland’s St. Vincent Charity Hospital, where grateful A.A.’s of that area have contributed labor and money to reconstruct an old wing of the place which has been christened “Rosary Hall” and set aside for the special use of the Sister and her co-workers. Already 5,000 cases have been treated.9
Many an A.A. member today believes that among the best gateways to sobriety are the alcoholic wards of the religious hospitals that cooperate with us. Surely those who have passed through St. Thomas at Akron and St. Vincent’s Charity at Cleveland will heartily agree with this. It is our hope that in due time religious hospitals of all denominations will follow the example of these great originals. What Sister Ignatia and her associates at St. Thomas have already done is a very brave beginning. But the future may honor them even more for the great works that their example set in motion.
In 1949, ten years after the start of Dr. Bob’s and Sister Ignatia’s pioneering, the importance of this work was deeply realized by A.A.’s throughout Ohio. A committee was formed to place a plaque in the alcoholic ward at St. Thomas Hospital, a memorial which would clearly show what so many of us really thought and felt. I was asked to write the inscription and preside at the dedication. Though Anne had recently passed away, Dr. Bob could still be with us. Characteristically, Sister Ignatia would not let her name appear on the inscription. It was on Saturday afternoon, April 8, 1949, that we unveiled and presented the memorial plaque to the hospital. Its inscription read as follows:
THE FRIENDS OF DR. BOB AND ANNE S.
AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THIS MEMORIAL
TO THE SISTERS AND STAFF OF
ST. THOMAS HOSPITAL.
AT AKRON, BIRTHPLACE OF ALCOHOLICS
ANONYMOUS, ST. THOMAS HOSPITAL BECAME
THE FIRST RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION EVER
TO OPEN ITS DOOR TO OUR SOCIETY.
MAY THE LOVING DEVOTION OF THOSE WHO
LABORED HERE IN OUR PIONEERING TIME
BE A BRIGHT AND WONDROUS EXAMPLE
OF GOD’S GRACE EVERLASTINGLY SET
BEFORE US ALL.
Everyone remembers Dr. Bob’s famous final admonition to Alcoholics Anonymous: “Let’s not louse this thing up; let’s keep it simple.” And I recall my own tribute in the A.A. Grapevine to his great simplicity and strength…
Serenely remarking to his attendant, “I think this is it,” Dr. Bob passed out of our sight and hearing November sixteenth, 1950 at noonday. So ended the consuming malady in the course of which he had shown us how high faith can rise over grievous distress. As he had lived, so he died, supremely aware that in his Father’s house are many mansions.
Among all those he knew, memory was at floodtide. But who could really say what was thought and felt by the five thousand sick ones to whom he personally ministered and freely gave a physician’s care? Who could possibly record the reflections of his townsmen who had seen him sink almost into oblivion, then rise to anonymous world renown? Who could express the gratitude of those tens of thousands of A.A. families who had so often heard of him but had never seen him face to face? And what were the emotions of those nearest him as they thankfully pondered the mystery of his regeneration fifteen years before and all its vast consequence since? Only the smallest fraction of this great blessing could be comprehended. We could only say, “What indeed hath God wrought?”
Never would Dr. Bob have us think him a saint or a superman. Nor would he have us praise him or grieve his passing. We can almost hear him saying to us, “Seems to me you folks are making heavy going. I’m not to be taken so seriously as all that. I was only a first link in that chain of Providential circumstances which is called A.A. By grace and good fortune my link did not break, though my faults and failures often might have brought on that unhappy result. I was just another alcoholic trying to get along, under the grace of God. Forget me, but go you and do likewise. Add your own link to our chain. With God’s help, forge that chain well and truly.” It was in this manner, if not in these exact words, that Dr. Bob actually did estimate himself and counsel us.
Meeting a few months after Dr. Bob’s death, the first General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous voted in 1951 to present each of Dr. Bob’s heirs, young Bob and Sue, with a scroll which struck a final note. It read as follows:
Alcoholics Anonymous herein records its timeless gratitude for the life and works of Dr. Robert Holbrook S., a Co-Founder.
Known in affection as “Dr. Bob” he recovered from alcoholism on June 10, 1935; in that year he helped form the first Alcoholics Anonymous Group; this beacon he and his good