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Robert Holbrook Smith
by Dick B.
Truth I Wanted to Learn
2007 by Anonymous. All rights reserved
Challenging Search For The Real Dr. Bob
I first arrived in A.A. in the spring of 1986, if anyone
had mentioned the name “Dr. Bob,” the remark
would either have passed me by. Or I would have asked, “Who
is he?” I didn’t know, and I hadn’t heard—and
not for quite some time thereafter.
the young man, now dead of alcoholism, asked me if I knew
A.A. had come from the Bible. When I answered, “No.”
He suggested I read DR. BOB and the Good Old Timers and
also remarked that the A.A. pioneers had been so interested
in studying the Bible that they wanted to call A.A. “The
James Club.” And I won’t repeat what I’ve
since written about The Akron Genesis of A.A., The Good
Book and The Big Book, Dr. Bob and His Library, The James
Club, the AA of Akron pamphlets, and all the rest. But there
was still a gaping hole in my knowledge of what Dr. Bob
himself had meant when he said he had “refreshed”
his memory of the Bible and had received “excellent
training” in that as a youngster. He had also spoken
of his four-times-a-week attendance at church, and also
of his participation in Christian Endeavor.
left me with many unanswered questions: What memory of the
Bible did Dr. Bob bring with him to early A.A.? What training
had he received in the Good Book as a youngster? Why did
he call it “excellent training?” What had he
really absorbed from all his church, Sunday school, prayer
meeting, and Bible study attendance as a youngster? What
did they do in Christian Endeavor? Where could I find all
the facts about his youth? How much of his learning was
translated to Akron A.A.’s pioneer Christian Fellowship?
And—the bottom line—what could such information
do for the alcoholic who still suffers?
Answers Were In St. Johnsbury, Vermont
had been invited to conduct, and for eight different times
did conduct, A.A. spiritual history seminars at the Wilson
House in East Dorset, Vermont. I had contributed many historical
books, tapes, pamphlets, and manuscripts to the Griffith
Library at the Wilson House. I had been there at its Grand
Opening, when Ozzie Lepper was still alive. And I had recently
researched and found a good deal of information about Bill
Wilson’s religious training as a youngster, about
his grandfather Willie’s conversion cure, and about
the involvement of both the Griffith and the Wilson families
in the little East Congregational Church that lies between
the Griffith Library and the Wilson House.
heart surgery complications in 2001, and economics, had
prevented my visit to Dr. Bob’s birthplace and boyhood
home in St. Johnsbury. Being unable to go there myself,
I asked three different groups of dedicated A.A. history
seekers to go to St. Johnsbury and see what they could find
and report. Each of these three groups came away empty handed.
Part of this was due to their lack of knowledge about what
to look for and where to find it. Part of this was due to
the fact that there simply was and is nothing of significance
at Dr. Bob’s actual home that would inform people
about Dr. Bob and his family. That had been the case for
years and years.
a month or so ago, my son Ken and I went to St. Johnsbury,
Vermont. We met with the people managing the boyhood home.
We scoped out the places of Dr. Bob’s youth; and we
were able to interview the minister of North Congregational
Church and obtain some records. We sought out his birth
certificate. We were helped immeasurably with our research
by the archivist at St. Johnsbury Academy. We acquired some
books and literature. And we went to the Town Library—called
the Athenaeum. We were helped there. As we looked at records
and pictures, we realized we had lots and lots of research
work to do on our return to Maui.
son Ken has since been applying his extraordinary talents
in the internet research field. And from these efforts,
we have obtained all kinds of records about North Congregational
Church, its Sunday School, its Christian Endeavor Society,
the Fairbanks family who were deeply involved in its founding
and service through the years, and the activities of Dr.
Bob and his family in that church. We have also obtained
some well researched and written books about the church,
its members, its revivals, and the service of the Smiths
as superintendents of Sunday school, Sunday school teachers,
historians, missionary workers, music participation, and
more at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium across the
street. There’s still more at the Town Hall and Court
House where Judge Walter P. Smith (Bob’s father) served.
There are biographies, bibliographies, and histories galore
at the Athenaeum which the Fairbanks people donated to the
Town. There is information about the YMCA and YMCA building
(now destroyed by fire), its Christian outreach with revivals,
conversions, and Gospel meetings. Also about offices held
in the “Y” by Judge Smith and many a Fairbanks.
St. Johnsbury Academy is a treasure trove. Records show
pictures of Dr. Bob and of him in his graduating class;
notices about him and the Glee Club which he managed and
in which he sang; class notes about him; mention of his
membership in the Adelphian Literary Society; mention of
debates in which he held forth; and his graduation program—where
he was Orator. Moreover the Judge conducted exams for the
school. And Bob’s mother had attended there, graduated
there, taught there, been on the alumni executive committee,
delivered a history address, and wrote two chapters of the
official Academy history. There are lots more details about
the Fairbanks influence, required Daily chapel, required
church attendance and Bible study, and Christian textbooks.
lid has barely been opened. We are still researching and
receiving information from the state historical society,
the state Congregational (UCC) headquarters, the YMCA, the
archivists, the books and histories, and the writings of
those involved in the revivals, evangelistic events, Gospel
meetings, and conversions.
worth a comment that, until we recently published The Conversion
of Bill W., there was a general misreporting to the effect
that there was nothing to report about Bill’s youth.
Of course, we discovered Bill’s grandfather had been
converted and cured. Bill’s grandparents on both sides
had attended the East Dorset Congregational Church and participated
in it. Bill himself had attended and been enrolled in its
Sunday school. Bill and his grandfather Fayette had read
the Bible. Bill had studied the Bible with his friend Mark.
Bill had attended temperance and revival meetings. And,
as a student at Burr and Burton Academy, Bill had—like
Dr. Bob—attended Daily Chapel.
hardly relevant to A.A. work that some of us have read about
Bill’s boomerang, about his deceased childhood girlfriend
Bertha, about his violin, about his depressions, about family
split-ups, and about his encounter with Swedenborgians.
But Bill’s conversion at the Mission and his conversion
story have been distorted or omitted or ignored. Yet the
latter points went to the heart of Bill’s early A.A.
convictions about the solution and cure of alcoholism.
facts pertaining to Dr. Bob are far more relevant to the
cure of alcoholism. For it was what Dr. Bob learned in St.
Johnsbury as a youngster that had everything to do with
the form and shape and content of the early A.A. program
in Akron and its astonishing documented 75% to 93% success
rate among seemingly hopeless, medically incurable, real
alcoholics who thoroughly followed the Akron path to a relationship
with God – and cure!
learn what’s next as we go along. But here’s
a preview. We are assembling and have about completed a
20 volume “core library” of information about
the whole Dr. Bob boyhood, training, and activities in St.
Johnsbury. As with all the materials we placed in the Wilson
House, these will constitute the research base which documents
our articles, talks, and books. We have also just about
completed the first of two books about Dr. Bob. Excerpts
from draft chapters of the first book are being distributed
to history fellowship members and others and also posted
on our new Dr. Bob website (http://www.DrBob.info).
The first book—a resource book--will focus on the
St. Johnsbury facts and Dr. Bob’s youth. The second
book in the works will be the long-awaited accurate biography
of Dr. Bob. It will supplement what has already been done
in my own titles like Dr. Bob and His Library, The Akron
Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, The Good Book and The Big
Book, Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, Henrietta Seiberling,
When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, Real Twelve-Step Fellowship
History, and The James Club. It will also flesh out the
blank spots in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers and RHS.
will also begin seeing additional parts of this article;
pictures of the whole St. Johnsbury scene and of Dr. Bob
and his family; additional book excerpts; and audio talks
covering the subject. Stay tuned!
updated on the new Dr Bob website by visiting it periodically: