Important Days Of A.A

in New York City on February 14, 1971

Our beloved Bill is dead. Even as I stand before you and say the
words, I cannot really believe that it is true. In my heart I choose
to believe that Bill is here with us at this very moment. And I
somehow can almost hear him saying in that half-amused, half
embarrassed way of his, “Oh come on now Jack, do you really think all
this fuss is necessary?”

Two weeks ago, at a meeting of your Board of Trustees, shortly after
Bill’s passing, there was a rather lively discussion about a matter
involving the whole fellowship. When it had reached a certain level
of intensity, I found myself waiting to hear Bill speak up, as he so
often did and say those few words that would put everything in
perspective. But he didn’t speak. And it was then that I realized way
down deep that we would never hear his voice again…that we could no
longer count on the constant presence of his wisdom and strength. We
could never again say as we had said so many times before, “Bill,
what do you think?” And I at least, have not yet come to accept this

Bill was no saint. He was an alcoholic and a man of stubborn will and
purpose. How else could he have lived through the years of
frustration, failure, and discouragement while the steps, the
traditions, and the conference were being hammered out on the anvil
of hard experience with the first few groups? That he had the
self-honesty, the clarity of vision to see the vital necessity for
the Third Step, and turning one’s life and will over to a Higher
Power is just one part of our great good fortune that Bill lived. I
have seen Bill’s pride and I have seen his humility. And I have been
present when people from far countries have met him for the first
time and started to cry. And all Bill – that shy Vermonter – could do
was stand there and look like he wanted to run from the room. No,
Bill was no saint, although many of us wanted to make him into one.
Knowing this, he was insistent that legends about him be kept to a
minimum – that accurate records be kept so that future generations
would know him as a man. He was a very human person — to me an
exceptionally human person.

Bill’s constant concern during almost all of the years that I knew
him was that Alcoholics Anonymous should always be available for the
suffering alcoholic–that the mistakes that led to the fading of
previous movements to help alcoholics should be avoided. To me one
measure of his greatness is the clarity of his vision of the future
in his determination to let go of us long before we were willing to
let go of him.

Bill was a good sponsor, – the wise old timer determined to
relinquish the role of founder because he knew that A.A. must, as he
would say, come of age and take complete responsibility for itself.
He had an abiding faith that our Fellowship not only could, but
should run without him. Repeatedly, during the last few years, he has
said in General Service Conference sessions “We have nothing to
fear.” Bill believed that the wisdom of A.A. came out of church
basements and not from the pulpit; that it was directed from the
groups to the Trustees rather than the other way around. He sometimes
felt, though, when the Conference disagreed with him as it sometimes
did, that its conscience needed to be better informed, but it was
this way that we really shared experience and developed strength and
confidence that the answers would work out.

Bill knew that it was not one voice that should be heard, but many
thousands of voices. And it was his gift that he was able to listen
to them all, then, out of the noise and confusion discern the group
conscience. Then he would put it all together, the tension of
argument would fade, and everyone would realize that his answer was
right. What Bill’s death means to me now is, that all of us–all of
us: you, the delegates, the Trustees–will have to listen much more
carefully than we once did in order to make out the voice of the
group conscience.

And I know that this is possible. Bill has trained us for it
beginning in St. Louis in 1955. For this was Bill’s vision — to
create a channel of communication within the Fellowship of Alcoholics
Anonymous that would make it possible for everyone to be hear: from
the individual through the group, to the delegates and to the
Trustees, so that A.A. will always be here to extend a hand to the
drunk who is at this very moment crying out in the darkness of his
night as he reaches for help.

In closing, I want to say that it has been an honor for me to have
had this opportunity to participate with you in giving thanks to God
that Bill lived and was given the wisdom and strength and courage to
make the world a better place for all of us. There are many more
things I could say, but what can one say finally of a man’s goodness
and greatness? How many ways can you take his measure? I cannot do it
or say it for any of you — only for myself. He was the greatest and
wisest man I ever knew. Above everything, he was a man. And I believe
that he left his goodness and greatness and wisdom with us, for any
of us to take in what measure we can. May God grant us the wisdom and
strength to keep Alcoholics Anonymous alive, vital, attractive,
and unencumbered by the egocentricities that can so easily spoil it.


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