SERVICE.... THE THIRD LEGACY
Our Fellowship was very poor in the early days; sobriety was often a fragile and scarce commodity. In 1938, a nonprofit Alcoholic Foundation was formed through the efforts of Dr. Leonard Strong,
Bill's brother-in-law. The first Foundation consisted of three nonalcoholic members (Willard Richardson, Frank Amos and John Wood) and two alcoholics, (Dr. Bob and a New York member who later drank). Such was the fragile nature of the early membership.
Soon after Alcoholics Anonymous, which came to be known as the Big Book, was published, the Foundation assumed ownership of Works Publishing Co.
The first Foundation office was cubbyhole at 30 Vesey Street, New York City, staffed by Bill and a nonalcoholic secretary, Ruth Hock, who typed the first manuscript of the Big Book. Ruth also answered many of the thousands of letters for help that began to arrive as A.A. became known.
During the 1940's, Alcoholics Anonymous grew at an almost geometric rate. The Foundation office and the trustees were at the center of the growth, as requests for help flooded the tiny office. The wide use of the Big Book, the expansion of pamphlet literature, pleas for help, and the response to requests for guidance on group problems all constituted a growing service to the world of A.A.
In 1944, the office moved from Vesey Street to 415 Lexington Avenue, opposite Grand Central Station, where it became a mecca for thousands of A.A. travelers and visitors. As the decade waned, Bill and Dr. Bob saw that the Alcoholic Foundation had no tie to the A.A. membership except through the co-founders. Who would take their place when they passed on? The idea they came up with--selfless and brilliant--was to turn responsibility for the Fellowship over to the Fellowship, to form a service structure through which the A.A. groups would govern their own affairs.
It was proposed that the groups exercise this responsibility by electing delegates who, along with the trustees and office staff, would meet annually. This would be called the General Service Conference.
Bernard Smith, a nonalcoholic lawyer who was to serve as the first chairman of the Conference, helped Bill to formulate the Conference Charter. Since several of the trustees and many of the groups had expressed grave doubts about the new Conference plan, Bill embarked on a personal crusade to see the idea. In the midst of this effort, Dr. Bob, who had fallen ill with cancer, died on November 16, 1950.
The following year, the first A.A. General Service Conference was held in New York. It was agreed to try the Conference idea for five years to see if it could function as the collective voice and conscience of A.A., yet have absolutely no governing power over any individual A.A. member or group. In spite of obvious problems, the General Service Board was named as the replacement for the Alcoholic Foundation at the Second International Convention in St. Louis in 1955.
Bill felt that the final step in the shift of responsibility should be to change the ration between nonalcoholic and alcoholic trustees on the General Service Board, and he pressed hard for this change for many years. Finally, in 1966, the Conference recommended that the ratio be changed to seven nonalcoholic trustees and 14 alcoholic trustees (eight regional trustees, four general service trustees and two trustees-at-large). This is the composition of the board today. (1995)
Meanwhile, the General Service office continued to grow. It was to move four more times; it is now (1995) located on Riverside Drive and 120 St. Early nonalcoholic secretaries were replaced by A.A. staff members, and a paid general manager replaced the volunteers. Although he had stepped down from active leadership, Bill continued to come to the office one day a week and attend board meetings and Conferences.
His health began to fail in the late 1960's; Bill died on January 24, 1971.
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