On the radio yesterday I heard a history of Alcoholics Anonymous. Most people do not know that AA was an outgrowth of the Oxford Group, a Christian organization founded by the American reverend Dr. Frank Buchman, who taught that the root of most personal problems were fear and selfishness, and that the answer was to surrender one’s life over to God’s plan and God’s total control.
My mentor, Jim Newton, was a member of the Oxford Group and was present in Akron OH in the early 1930s. Jim was a teetotaler, but his best friend was Bud (Russell) Firestone, the son of the tire magnate Harvey Firestone. (Jim was Harvey Firestone’s personal assistant and accepted as a member of the Firestone family.) Bud was a hopeless drunk, and Jim took him first to a drying-out clinic and then on to an Oxford Group conference in Denver. Bud gave his life to God, and thereafter enjoyed extended periods of sobriety. The Firestone family doctor called it a “medical miracle.”
Harvey Firestone was so grateful that, in January 1933, he invited Buchman and a team of sixty young people to conduct a ten-day campaign in Akron. They left behind them a strong functioning group which met each week in a local home, amongst whom were an Akron surgeon, Dr. Bob Smith (r. below), and his wife Anne. Dr. Bob was a secret and heavy drinker.
In the meantime, Bill Wilson (l.), a stockbroker, also attended Oxford Group meetings in the New York area and went on a mission to save other alcoholics. Though he was not able to keep one alcoholic sober, he found that by engaging in the activity of trying to convert others, he was able to keep himself sober. It was this realization—that he needed another alcoholic to work with—that brought him into contact with Dr. Bob Smith while on a business trip to Akron. The idea that alcoholism was a disease and not a moral failing was different from the Oxford concept that drinking was a sin, and this idea is what he shared with Dr. Bob at their first meeting.
Dr. Bob was the first alcoholic Wilson helped to sobriety. Dr. Bob and Bill W., as they were later called, went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous, the most influential self-help movement in the world.
When I first met Jim Newton, he introduced me to a non-alcoholic drink that was popular with early members of AA. It was called a Bentley. For a time, I pounded down quite a few of these—they were as satisfying as a gin and tonic, an “adult drink” that is socially acceptable in all company. You can imbibe all you want and never suffer any ill effects.
Here’s how to mix a Bentley: Load a tall glass with ice, fill it with tonic water, a slice or more of lime—and here’s the kicker—top it off with Angostura Bitters. You don’t want just a dash of bitters; really load it up. Don’t bother to mix or stir the concoction—just let the bitters be suspended at the top of the glass. It will mix soon enough as you sip this tasty summer drink. And then another. And another.
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