“The Man on the Bed”
Bill Dotson of Akron, Ohio.
(p. 182 in 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions.)
Pioneers of A.A.
“Pioneer member of Akron’s Group No. 1, the first A.A. group in the world. He kept the faith, therefore, he and countless others found a new life.”
Bill’s date of sobriety was the date he entered Akron’s City Hospital for his last detox, June 26, 1935, where Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob visited him on June 28. His wife, Henrietta, recalled years later that she had asked her pastor to try to help him, and had prayed with another that someone who could help would visit him at the hospital.
He was a prominent lawyer, had been a city councilman, and was a well-adjusted family man and active in his church. Nonetheless, he had been hospitalized eight times in the past six months because of his alcoholism and got drunk even before he got home. When admitted this time he had DTs and had blacked the eyes of two nurses before they managed to strap him down. A nurse commented that he was a grand chap “when sober.”
He walked out of that hospital on July 4, never to drink again. A.A.’s first group dates from that day. Within a week, he was back in court, sober, and arguing a case. The message had been successfully shared a second time. Dr. Bob was no fluke, and apparently you did not have to be indoctrinated by the Oxford Group before the message could take hold.
He immediately began working with Dr. Bob and Bill, and went with them to visit Ernie Galbraith (“The Seven Month Slip” in the 1st edition) and others.
Oldtimers in Akron said he was indeed a grand chap, when sober, one of the most engaging people they ever knew. One said: “I thought I was a real big shot because I took Bill Dotson to meetings.” Another noted that, though Bill Dotson was influential, he was not an ambitious man in A.A., just a good A.A. If you went to him for help he would help you. He never drove a car, but he went to meetings every night, standing around with his thumbs in his vest like a Kentucky colonel.
A.A.’s first documented court case was one Phil S., who was released to the
care of Dr. Bob through the efforts of Bill Dotson, who talked with the judge who agreed to release him.
Bill never submitted his story for the 1st edition. Various theories include (1) he wanted to be paid for the story, (2) he was too prominent a person, (3) he was too humble to have his story appear. But in 1952 he told an interviewer that he hadn’t been much interested in the project or perhaps thought it unnecessary. He added that Bill Wilson had come to Akron to record his story, which would appear in the next edition of the book. Perhaps by 1952 he was embarrassed that he’d originally wanted to be paid for the story so didn’t mention it. But apparently he cooperated to have it appear in the 2nd edition.
Bill Dotson died September 17, 1954, in Akron. Bill Wilson wrote, “That is, people say he died, but he really didn’t. His spirit and works are today alive in the hearts of uncounted A.A.s, and who can doubt that Bill already dwells in one of those many mansions in the great beyond. The force of the great example that Bill set in our pioneering time will last as long as A.A. itself.”