A.A.’s “Prince of All Twelfth-Steppers” — Dr. Bob

By Dick B.

© 2008 by Anonymous. All rights reserved

What Is Our Real Purpose?

Is A.A. a religion? Is it a medical treatment program? Bill Wilson cautioned AAs to remember that clergymen and physicians were the “experts”; and then cautioned that AAs were merely their assistants. Is A.A. today, then, still a Twelve-Step program where the assistants emphasize love and service transmitted by one recovered alcoholic to another who still suffers? I believe it depends on how well we know our purpose.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob were very clear about the primary purpose of the Fellowship.

Bill Wilson wrote: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, p. 20). Dr. Bob declared in his last address that our Twelve Steps, “when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words love and service” (RHS, The A.A. Grapevine, 1951, p. 43). And Dr. Bob was the pioneer who devoted himself absolutely, completely, and continuously to helping others recover by the power of God.

Bill Wilson himself called his partner Dr. Bob “the prince of all twelfth-steppers.” The same Dr. Bob who, to 1950, the year of his death, “carried the A.A. message to more than 5,000 alcoholic men and women, and to all these he gave his medical services without thought of charge.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, p. 171.

More specifically, Bill said this about our primary purpose and Dr. Bob’s role and accomplishments in carrying out that purpose:

It had been decided that Bob would attend mostly to the questions of hospitalization and the development of our Twelfth Step work. Between 1940 and 1950, in the company of that marvelous nun, Sister Ignatia, he had treated 5,000 drunks at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. His spiritual example was a powerful influence, and he never charged a cent for his medical care. So Dr. Bob became the prince of all twelfth-steppers” (The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical sketches: Their last major talks, 1972, 1975, p. 34).

The message here, then, is the importance of remembering from Dr. Bob’s example why our Fellowship exists and the essentials for its usefulness and potential for future successes.

Here’s What A.A. Literature Says about Our Purpose:

Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. (The A.A. Preamble. The A.A. Grapevine, Inc.)

To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, p. xiii) –

“5. Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose–that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, Tradition Five, p. 563)

The Documented Success Rates 75% to 93% among Pioneers Who Really Carried Out the Purpose

Numerous historical documents record that, in 1937, Bill and Bob “counted noses” and found that 40 men had achieved this record: “Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. xx. See also: RHS, p. 8; The Language of the Heart, p. 10; and Richard K., New Freedom: Alcoholics Anonymous Reclaimed). By the time Frank Amos investigated the Akron program and reported to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in February, 1938, he could say: “The alcoholic group comprised ‘some 50 men and I believe, two women former alcoholics–all considered practically incurable by physicians–who have been reformed and so far have remained teetotalers'” (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 1980, pp. 129-31). In May, 1939, Clarence Snyder started a new group in Cleveland for alcoholics only. He took with him the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, the Bible, and the Four Absolutes. Bill Wilson said that, after a year, the Cleveland group had about 30 groups; and A.A. literature reports: “Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of those who came to us never had a drink again” (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pp. 211, 261).

Gloria Deo
(Glory to God in the Highest…)

Editor’s Note: Dick B. is an active, recovered member of Alcoholics Anonymous; a retired attorney; and a Bible student. He has sponsored more than 100 men in the Recovery from alcoholism. For more about Dick B. click here.

4 thoughts on “A.A.’s “Prince of All Twelfth-Steppers” — Dr. Bob

  1. I can’t get enough of that good old stuff! The more I read about the old-timers, the more I realized how far off the mark I was when I first came around and listened to all the opinions. I thank God for this movement that seems to be catching on to go back to basics.

  2. Dear Bruce: Your comment is heart-warming. It was four years into A.A. before I knew anything about Pass It On and DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, our founding date, the Akron story, Dr. Bob’s background, or the famous events in Akron from 1931 to 1935. And I have been searching and learning ever since. I think the new book The Conversion of Bill W. will blow your mind when you compare it to the details about Dr. Bob’s youth. There’s lots to learn about Bob, Bill, Anne Smith, Henrietta Seiberling, Sam Shoemaker, the Oxford Group, Jung, James, Rowland Hazard, Ebby and all the rest. And this is a happening site. I’m glad we are on it. God Bless, Dick B. http://www.dickb.com/conversions.shtml

  3. I love Bill W. He was stockbroker whose mission was to hype stocks. In his recovery, he was ever the alcoholic — rounding numbers up, pulling numbers out his hat, shaping the alcoholic’s place in the family, etc. Actually, it’s this very behavior that comforts me with the knowledge that Bill was one of us (and conversely, I am one of him.) But let’s not get to carried away with the numbers. I’ve yet to see any reasonably study of the early Alcoholic Squad sobriety experience that was more than hearsay. Does it matter whether the number is 46% or 73% or 99%? Trying to advance some number seems a lot like promotion, not attraction, to me. The important thing (for me) is that whatever the number is, I’m included in it.

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