A.A. co-founder's son is dead

Akron native Robert Ripley Smith Jr., 85, was proud that local program had global impact

By Carol Biliczky, Akron Beacon Journal staff writer

As a child, "Smitty'' came home to find a drunk in his bed, his house filled with alcoholics.

Such was Robert Ripley Smith Jr.'s start in life as the son of the august -- and eventually revered -- co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In 1998, Bob Smith Jr. told the Akron Beacon Journal that he and his sister were eyewitnesses to history as they saw A.A. unfold in their Akron home to become a worldwide organization with millions of members.

"I loved it,'' he said. "The first 17 years of my life I lived with active alcoholism, now there was recovery.''

Mr. Smith died Thursday at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., of congestive heart failure. He was 85.

He was the only son of Dr. Robert and Anna Smith, who lived at a modest bungalow with three bedrooms at 855 Ardmore Ave. in Akron.

The son was there on Mother's Day in 1935 when his father, an Akron physician, and New York stockbroker Bill Wilson co-founded what would become A.A.

The organization flourished and its 12-step foundation has been used by more than 250 other kinds of recovery groups that combat gambling, prostitution, drugs and more.

As for Mr. Smith, he became a pilot in World War II, hunting submarines off the coast of Africa. After the war, he worked as a commercial pilot and in the oil industry, settling in Nocona, Texas, about 20 miles from the Oklahoma border.

He was elected to the City Council from 1984 to 1991 and was mayor of the town of 3,000 from 1991 to 1993, recalled Minnie Walker, then the city secretary and now the city manager.

"He was a fun man, a real cut-up,'' she said. "He told me every year how many people he gained for Alcoholics Anonymous, and I'd tell him, `Look you're not making any progress here.' ''

Mr. Smith joined Al-Anon, a recovery program for spouses and loved ones of alcoholics, when his wife, Betty, began attending A.A. meetings in the 1970s.

It was then that he began to realize the enormity of his father's contributions to the disease of alcoholism. He began to speak at A.A. and Al-Anon meetings across the country, most recently just three weeks ago in northern Indiana.

"They don't invite me for who I am. They invite me for who I know,'' he said.

He would relate the stories of growing up in the Smith household, home to A.A. meetings that approached 70 people before they were moved to the King School building.

He and his late sister, Sue Smith Windows of Akron, captured their memories in a book called Children of the Healer: The Story of Dr. Bob's Kids in 1992.

"For the many friends I have met and know as a result of 12-step programs,'' he wrote on the dedication page. "You have taught me a way of life in these programs that I never would have figured out by myself. I am truly grateful.''

His Akron home is revered now as a national, state and local landmark and is something of a shrine to A.A. devotees who return there in an annual pilgrimage each year.

"He was a kind man, he loved his father,'' said Don C. of Cleveland, who is chairman of the board of the nonprofit Dr. Bob's House, which has been restored to the way it looked in 1935, complete with many of the Smith family's original furnishings.

In keeping with A.A. tradition, group members only use the first letter of their last names.

Mr. Smith's first wife and a son died several years ago. He leaves his current wife, Mona Sides-Smith of Memphis; son Todd Smith of Vernon, Texas, and daughters Penny Umbertino of Phoenix and Judy Edmiston of Dallas; three stepdaughters and one granddaughter.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Memphis Funeral Home's Poplar Chapel in Memphis.

Akron Beacon Journal

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