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D. - AA's Number 3
a Friday night, September 17, 1954, Bill D. died in Akron,
Ohio. That is, people say he died, but he really didn't,
wrote Bill W. His spirit and works are today alive in the
hearts of uncounted AAs, and who can doubt that Bill already
dwells in one of those many mansions in the great beyond.
Bill D., the Man on the Bed, was AA number 3. At his death,
he had not had a drink in more than nineteen years. His
date of sobriety was the date he entered Akron City Hospital
for his last detox, June 26, 1935. Two days later occurred
that fateful day when he was visited by two sober alcoholics:
Dr. Bob S. of Akron, Ohio, and Bill W., a guest of Dr. Bob's
from New York.
few days before, Dr. Bob had said to Bill: "If you and I
are going to stay sober, we had better get busy". Dr. Bob
called Akrons City Hospital and told the nurse, a Mrs. Hall,
that he and a man from New York had a cure for alcoholism.
Did she have an alcoholic customer on whom they could try
it out? She replied, "Well, Doctor, I suppose you've already
tried it yourself?" Then she told him of a man who had just
come in with DTs, had blacked the eyes of two nurses, and
was now strapped down tight. He's a grand chap when he's
sober, she added. Dr. Bob prescribed some medications, and
then asked her to transfer him to a private room. He also
put him on a diet of sauerkraut and tomatoes. That's all
he was allowed to eat during his hospitalization. The nurse
told Dr. Bob and Bill that Bill D. had been a well-known
attorney in Akron and a city councilman.
he had been hospitalized eight times in the last six months.
(Bill W. sometimes said six times. Following each release,
he got drunk even before he got home. Bill's wife, Henriett
D., had talked to Dr. Bob and Bill earlier. When she told
her husband she had been talking to a couple of fellows
about drinking he was furious at her disloyalty. When she
told them that they were a couple of drunks Bill didn't
mind so much.
apparently had quite a conversation with the two men, and
she told her husband that their plan for staying sober themselves
was to tell their plan to another drunk. Years later, Bill
D. reflected on the jumbled thoughts in his mind as his
wife left and he began to lapse back into withdrawal stupor:
All the other people that talked to me wanted to help me,
and my pride prevented me from listening to them, and caused
only resentment on my part, but I felt as if I would be
a real stinker if I did not listen to a couple of fellows
for a short time, if that would cure them.
Dr. Bob and Bill talked to what may have been their first
man on the bed. They told them of the serious nature of
his disease, but also offered hope for a recovery. We told
him what we had done, wrote Bill, how we got honest with
ourselves as never before, how we had talked our problems
out with each other in confidence, how we tried to make
amends for harm done others, how we had then been miraculously
released from the desire to drink as soon as we had humbly
asked God, as we understood him, for guidance and protection.
But Bill D. was not impressed. He said, "Well, this is wonderful
for you fellows, but can't be for me. My case is so terrible
that I'm scared to go out of this hospital at all. You don't
have to sell me religion, either. I was at one time a deacon
in the church and I still believe in God. But I guess he
doesn't believe much in me". But he did agree to see Dr.
Bob and Bill again.
came again the next day, and for several days thereafter.
they arrived on July 4, they found Bill's wife, Henrietta,
with him. Eagerly pointing at them, he said to his wife,
"These are the fellows I told you about, they are the ones
who understand". Before they could say anything, he told
them about his night, how he hadn't slept but had been thinking
about them all night long. And he had decided that if they
could do it, maybe he could do it, maybe they could do together
what they couldn't do separately.
was apparently on that day that he admitted he couldn't
control his drinking and had to leave it up to God. Then
they made him get down on his knees at the side of the bed
and pray and say that he would turn his life over to God.
Before the visit was over, he suddenly turned to his wife
and said, "Go fetch my clothes, dear. We're going to get
up and get out of here." He walked out of that hospital
on July 4, 1935, a free man, never to drink again.
Number One Group dates from that day. That fourth of July
they had plenty to celebrate. So they had a picnic. Dr.
Bob and Anne S. , Bill W., Bill and Henrietta D., and Eddie
R., the first alcoholic they tried to help were there. (Eddie
didn't get sober at first, but later he did, and Eddie said
in a talk that there were two firsts in A.A. - the first
one who accepted the program and the first who refused it.)
a week, Bill D. was back in court, sober, and arguing a
case. But at first his wife was doubtful. He had previously
gone on the wagon and stayed sober for long periods. But
then he drank again. Would this time be different? And he
hadn't had that sudden transforming experience that Bill
W. talked about. When Lois W. visited Akron in July of 1935,
Henrietta shared these fears with her, and asked Lois whether
she ever worried about her Bill drinking again. Lois answered
without hesitation, no. Never.
message had been successfully shared a second time. Dr.
Bob was no fluke. And apparently you did not have to be
indoctrinated by the Oxford Group before the message could
take hold. The three worked with scores of others. Many
were called but mighty few chosen; failure was our daily
companion. But when I left Akron in September 1935, two
or three more sufferers had apparently linked themselves
to us for good, wrote Bill. Bill D.'s story was not included
in the first edition of the Big Book. Kurst seems to think
it was because Bill D.'s credentials, were apparently too
blatant: highly respectable upper middle-class background,
above average education, intensive youthful religious training
which had since been rejected, and former social prominence
recently nullified by such behavior as his assault on two
nurses. But most believe it was because Bill D. had insisted
on being paid for his story.
W. wrote his story for the second edition after Bill D.'s
appears in the Big Book as "AA Number Three." He based the
story on tapes of Bill D.'s talks, and on his own memory.
Old timers in Akron, according to Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers,
recalled that Bill D., was indeed a grand chap when sober.
They remembered him as one of the most engaging people they
ever knew. One said: "I thought I was a real big shot because
I took Bill D. to meetings".
noted that, though Bill D. was influential in the area he
was not an ambitious man in AA. He wasn't aggressive, just
a good A.A. If you went to him for help he would give you
help. He would counsel with you. He never drove a car, but
he went to meetings every night. He'd stand around with
his thumbs in his vest like a Kentucky colonel. And he spoke
so slow, you wanted to reach out and pull the words from
his mouth. I loved to be around him. He put you in mind
of a real Easy Does It guy - Mr. Serenity.
wife, looking back in 1977, described him as a great alcoholic
who, like other alcoholics, didn't want to get drunk. She
reportedly remembered telling her pastor, "You aren't reaching
him. I'm going to find someone who can if I have to see
everyone in Akron", and she prayed with the pastor of another
church that someone her husband could understand would visit
him in City Hospital, where he had been admitted with some
kind of virus. I have found no reference to his age when
Bill and Bob found him, but Bill keeps referring to him
in the literature as old Bill D.
a memorial to Bill D., Bill W. wrote: "The force of
the great example that Bill set in our pioneering time will
last as long as AA itself. Bill kept the faith - what more
could we say?"
SOURCES: Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob and the Gold
Oldtimers, The Language of the Heart, Bill W's Grapevine
Writings, Bill W., by Robert Thomsen, Not God, by Ernest
Kurtz, Bill W., by Francis Hartigan