General Service Office
“Nearly all of the last fifteen years of my life have been invested in the construction of A.A.’s General Service Headquarters. My heart is still there, and it will continue to be. To me, A.A.’s world services are that important.” So said Bill W. at the 1955 St. Louis Convention. And so it proved. For he elaborated on the same thought in a message written as a final to his last book, The A.A. Way of Life (later retitled, As Bill Sees It) about three years before his death:
“Since 1938, the greatest part of my A.A. life has been spent in helping to create, design, manage, and insure the solvency and effectiveness of A.A.’s world services -, the office of which has enabled our Fellowship to function all over the globe, and as a unified whole.. . These all-important services have accounted for much of our present size and over-all effectiveness.
“The A.A. General Service Office is by far the largest single carrier of the A.A. message. It has well related A.A. to the troubled world in which we live. It has fostered the spread of our Fellowship everywhere…It stands ready to serve the special needs of any group or isolated individual, no matter the distance or language. Its many years of accumulated experience are available to us all.”
Two years after Bill sobered up, when his Wall Street activity petered out and his business ventures failed to materialize, he was left without income. So he became associated with Hank P., whom he had sponsored out of Towns Hospital. Hank’s idea at the time was to organize gasoline dealers in northern New Jersey into a cooperative buying organization called Honor Dealers. The office for this scheme was in an unprepossessing two-story structure at 17 William Street in Newark. The business had one other employee, a secretary named Ruth Hock. Ruth got the impression, rightly, that Bill W., was not really very interested in the service station business, and she soon learned that both of the principals were very involved in “helping a bunch of nameless drunks.” That was the real business of the office.
So it was here that Bill, with Ruth’s help, produced the manuscript of the Big Book. And it was here—after the Alcoholic Foundation voted in favor of letting Harper & Bros. publish the book—that Hank and Bill formed Works Publishing Company, having no legal connection with the Foundation, to publish it themselves. (See Chap. 2 & 12) In 1940, it was agreed that “the A.A. book should belong to our society as a whole,” so the Foundation raised enough money to acquire Works Publishing. Also, in February 1940, Bert T., newly elected Class B Trustee, suggested that an office and secretary be arranged at the earliest opportunity. A committee of trustees was formed, consisting of Willard Richardson, Dr. Leonard Strong and Bert T., to arrange for the office and furniture. Bill also made the point strongly that Foundation business ~ be carried on in the same office as local work with alcoholics.
Within two weeks a modest two-room office was rented at 30 Vesey Street in the downtown financial district of New York. The rent was $650 per year. “At this point,” says Bill, “Ruth (though nonalcoholic) became A.A.’s first national secretary, and I turned into a sort of headquarters handyman.” At the same time, John D. Rockefeller gave his famous dinner for Alcoholics Anonymous. Though it resulted in almost no financial support, Rockefeller’s endorsement was publicized in newspapers across the country, and “as a result, membership jumped sharply to about 2,000 at the’ year’s end.” Book sales increased, which helped support the struggling office. And requests for help came in, which “were answered with warm, personal letters. When alcoholics or their families showed continued interest, we kept on writing. Aided by such letters and the book, new A.A. groups began to take form.
“More importantly, we had lists of prospects in many cities and towns in the U.S. and Canada. We turned these lists over to A.A. traveling businessmen, members of already established groups…and they started still more groups. We put out a group directory. Then came an unexpected activity. Because the newborn groups saw only a little of their traveling sponsors, they turned to the New York office for help with their innumerable troubles. By mail we relayed the experience of the older centers on to them. A little later this became a major service.”
The “National Headquarters—Alcoholics Anonymous” (as its letterhead read) sent its first “A.A’ Bulletin” to the groups on November 14, 1940. It was signed by Ruth Hock and gives such a vivid picture of the Fellowship at the time.
“The spring of 1941 brought us a ten-strike,” Bill continues to relate. “The Saturday Evening Post decided to do a piece about Alcoholics Anonymous. It assigned one of its star writers, Jack Alexander, to the job” At first he was skeptical, but after a month of investigation, he became enthusiastic. “He proceeded to write the piece that rocked drunks and their families all over the nation. Came then the deluge. Frantic appeals – six thousand of them—hit the New York office. At first, we pawed at random through the mass of letters, laughing and crying by turns. How could this heartbreaking mail be answered? It was a cinch that Ruth and I could never do it alone. Form letters wouldn’t [do]. Every single one must have an understanding personal reply.”
Although it was originally thought that the office would be supported by profits from book sales, an appeal was now made to the A.A. groups to help pay for this enormous Twelfth Step job. They responded—the suggested contribution at that time was $1.00 per member—and the Trustees of the Foundation agreed to look after the funds in a separate account, earmarking them for A.A. office expenses only. (This bookkeeping practice is followed to the present time.) It is interesting to note, moreover, that from the beginning, Works Publishing was the corporate entity which administered the service office—just as its successor publishing entity, A.A. World Services, Inc., administers the General Service Office today.
Here were the expenses for the six months ending September 1941:
|Office rent – 30 Vesey
|Secretary & 3 Stenographers
|Taxes – Soc. Sec., etc.
|Telephone & telegraph
At the same time, the Headquarters office took on another important function: public relations for Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill tells how: “The national spotlight now being on us, we had to begin dealing with the public on a large scale. Public ill will could stunt our growth, even bring it to a standstill. But enthusiastic public confidence could swell our ranks to numbers we had only dreamed of before. The-Post piece had proved this.
“Finding the right answers to all our public relations puzzlers has been a long process, Bill wrote in 1955. “After much trial and error, sometimes punctuated by painful mistakes, the attitudes and practices that would work best for us emerged. The important ones can today be seen in our A.A. Traditions. One hundred percent anonymity at the public level, no use of the A.A. name for the benefit of other causes, however worthy, no endorsements of alliances, one single purpose for Alcoholics Anonymous, no professionalism, public relations by the principle of attraction rather than promotion – these were some of the hard—learned lessons.”
In February 1942, Ruth Hock left to be married. Having helped at Bill’s right hand for five years, she was missed not only by him but by Dr. Bob. “It’s queer that having met him only once (on a visit to Ohio], Ruth wrote, “I feel he is one of the best friends I ever had.” And she was missed by the countless A.A. pioneers across the country for whom she was the first and principal contact with the New York office. For example, she played a key-supporting role to Clarence and Dorothy S. in the phenomenal early growth of A.A. in Cleveland. Ruth Hock carried “the affectionate wishes of thousands of members” when she departed. She “set us an example that will never be forgotten,” Bill wrote.
Before she left, the office began to realize that dealing with the problems of the groups was to be one of its major services. In April, a request went out to the groups to send in “every single suggestion or question which you think a [group] handbook…should cover.” Group support for Headquarters office expenses in the amount of $4,000 was sought for the six months beginning September 1, 1942. In early 1943, a questionnaire was sent to the groups to ascertain the functions and services they wanted from the “Central Office.” A strikingly illustrated spread in The American Weekly, a widely circulated Sunday supplement magazine, had produced a new flood of inquiries, and the next proposal to the groups for financial support was for $5,000 for the six months beginning September 1943. Half a year later, $6,500 was requested for the next period because the Trustees had approved a move of the offices uptown and the hiring of a new stenographer.
May 1, 1944, Headquarters moved into a three-room office at 415 Lexington Avenue, opposite Grand Central Station. “We made this move,” Bill wrote, “because the need for serving the many A.A. travelers through New York had become urgent. Our new location near Grand Central brought us into contact with visitors who, for the first time, began to see Alcoholics Anonymous as a vision for the whole world. Thousands of A.A.’s, their families, their friends, their clergymen, their doctors and their employers have since visited the New York Headquarters.” Besides Bill, the personnel at the time of the move consisted of Margaret “Bobbie”B., who had replaced Ruth Hock as “A.A.’s National Secretary #2,” and three assistants. Bill praised Bobbie for her “complete loyalty and devotion and her unbelievable energy and capacity for hard work.” “The growth of Alcoholics Anonymous continued at a pace which was to us sometimes staggering,” Bill said. “By almost geometrical progression the multiplication went on year after year. We no longer counted by thousands; we began to reckon by tens of thousands…The spread to foreign lands began. This development brought us a whole new set of problems to solve. . . Each new beachhead had to go through its flying-blind period. Our pamphlet literature had to be translated into other tongues…We became heavily involved in correspondence, helped by American members in New York who could translate for us…Serving foreign [A.A.) has become a major Headquarters activity, although we have scarcely scratched the possibilities,” Bill stated in 1955.
By early 1945, the office had six full-time employees and had a budget of $9,000 for the six-month period. In July, additional space had to be rented on the 10th floor of the building for shipping and storage. Mrs. Lowe, the bookkeeper, was acting as the office manager and personnel supervisor. A search was under way for an assistant to Bobbie B. The next appeal was for $11,000. As Bill explained, “As A.A. was growing, Headquarters had to grow, too—fortunately not as fast as A.A. did, or the bill would never have been paid. A.A. was getting so big that we could not possibly educate all members on what Headquarters was doing. Many groups, preoccupied with their own affairs, failed to help us at all. Less than half of them contributed anything. We were plagued with constant deficits in contributions which luckily would be plugged up with money from the sale of the Big Book and our growing pamphlet literature. Without this book income we would have folded up entirely.”
Exciting things were happening nevertheless. In 1944, the Grapevine was started, and in October 1945 was approved as A.A.’s national publication. (See Chap. 10) This journal, however, had separate quarters and a separate staff. “As early as 1945,” Bill wrote, “the solution of group problems by correspondence had put a large volume of work on Headquarters. It seemed as if every contestant in every group argument wrote us during this confused and exciting period. The basic ideas for the Twelve Traditions came directly out of this vast correspondence. In late 1945 a good A.A. friend suggested that all this mass of experience might be codified into a set of principles which could offer tested solutions to all our problems of living and working together and of relating our society to the world outside…Being at the center of things, we of Headquarters would have to do the job. Aided by my helpers there, I set to work. The Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous were first published in the ‘long form’ in the Grapevine of May, 1946. Additional Grapevine pieces explained the Traditions in detail.” (These were later the basis for the essays in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.)
“Getting out our Directory of A.A. groups began to be a job rather like publishing a suburban telephone book,” Bill recalled. “Letter files and Kardex files began to appear in rows. More alcoholic staff members had to be engaged.” Three employees were added to the office in January, 1946, including Charlotte L. as an assistant for Bobbie B. “About this time…members began breaking their anonymity all over the place…we saw the appalling risk to A.A. if all our power-drivers got loose at the public level. Already scores of them were doing it. So our service office got to work, we wrote remonstrance’s—kind ones, of course—to every breaker. We even sent letters to nearly all press and radio outlets…” On top of many other public relations activities at the office, Bill reported in August 1946, in a memo to the groups, that Paramount Pictures was interested in making a film on A.A. A committee was formed of three Trustees, Bobbie B. and Bill, to advise on the project. “That was because of ‘The Lost Weekend,'” according to Nell Wing. “All these movie companies came flocking to our doors. Everyone wanted to make a movie of A.A. and they brought scripts for us to review. Hal Wallis at Paramount hung or for about four years.”
Nell Wing came to the office in March 1947. A nonalcoholic she had been discharged from the Spars (the female branch of the U.S. Coast Guard) after World War II, and she was planning to go to Mexico to pursue a career as a sculptress. She had stopped over in New York to get a temporary Job and pick up a little travel money. “So I went over to this agency,” Nell remembers, “and gave them my resume. The lady read it and came around the desk, sat down and whispered, ‘How would you like to work at Alcoholics Anonymous?’ I replied, ‘Oh, I’d love it!’ So I went over to the office and was greeted by Charlotte L. There were about 11 of us at that time.”
The next day she met Bill W., who didn’t waste time in small talk but immediately launched into a tirade about his difficulties with the Trustees and his ideas for a General Service Conference. “I didn’t have the faintest idea what he was talking about,” says Nell. “I started as a typist and was supposed to be Charlotte L.’s secretary, so I had to go to night school to sharpen up my shorthand. Then, very early on, I was made receptionist. The salary was awful – around $75 a month. Marian W., the office manager, told me, ‘You won’t get paid much, but you’ll learn a lot spiritually.’ I didn’t have any idea about staying permanently, but I hung around because I love the Fellowship and all the A.A.’s. I retired 35 years later!”
According to Nell, Bobbie B. had been a dancer in Paris in the 1920’s and, in the fashion of the 1940’s, wore “tiny little hats and went tripping along in her high heels, but was a fantastic communicator. I can’t tell you the number of people—the countless, countless number of people all over the world who owe their sobriety to that woman. She was fantastic in that respect, but a little shaky on office discipline. She was really out of that part of the work. Charlotte L., on the other hand, “was a real businesswoman. She brought a lot of stability and business know—how to the office.” She also brought in an associate from the advertising agency where she had worked, Marian W. (not an A.A. member at that time, but joined considerably later) as office manager. “When Marian proceeded to introduce some discipline,” several of the employees quit. “The upheaval in those days, the ‘learning to be an office’ so to speak, was fascinating,” in Nell’s view. Part of the problem was that Bill W. was in, the office only two days a week even when he was not traveling—and he traveled frequently.
A major step in improving the operation of the office came when, in 1949, the Alcoholic Foundation appointed a General Service Committee to act as an “advisory body to the Headquarters staff in connection with those problems of policy and administration requiring immediate attention.” This committee, consisting of Trustees and acting in behalf of the Foundation, oversaw the Headquarters on a day-to-day basis, and its chairman was therefore the de facto volunteer manager of the office. Henry “Hank” C. was the first person to fill both these positions and carried both titles. So has every general manager of C.S.O. since that time. Dennis Manders explains, “The title Chairman of General Services meant that he was the liaison between the daily operations of the office and the Alcoholic Foundation or General Service Board. He actually wore two hats. In those days, the general manager chaired the publishing company meetings. And as Chairman of General Services, he had the difficult task of having to ride herd on Bill on a daily basis—and was responsible to the Board for doing so.” When the present structure was adopted in, the General Service Committee ceased to exist, its function being assumed by the A.A. World Services Board—but the dual responsibility of the general manager continued. Both Herb M. and Bob H. served as Chairmen of the General Service Committee when it was still active, later becoming paid general managers of G.S.O. (see below).
The appointment of the General Service Committee coincided with (and was perhaps prompted by) the discharge of Bobbie B.—and soon afterward, of Charlotte L. as well because of alcoholic slips. According to Nell and Ann M., their relapses were partly caused by the enormous workload combined with confusion of the early office. Nell says, “The four or five movie companies and all the press they had to deal with, and the groups proliferating and the prisons and hospitals starting, and the internationalists, and all—that poor woman (Bobbie] was just overwhelmed. The A.A. staff worked long hours all week and then sometimes went out to speak or to A.A. weekends, where they were ‘Mrs. A.A.’ and people showered them with affection and admiration. That ego-inflation was hard to handle when they’d been sober just a few years, as they had in those days. And they were exhausted, too.” Bobbie and Charlotte were apparently both on pills for some time before they returned to drinking.
(Relapses among other staff members in the ’50’s brought about changes in policy. A minimum of four years’ sobriety was established as a requirement of employment for the staff. The staff was encouraged to take compensatory days off for time worked over a weekend, including trips to attend A.A. events. This avoided the stress of a seven-day-a-week work schedule. Also, the number of staff members was increased, so the workload was more reasonable and the trips were spread out, as well. Finally, the office became better-organized and operating departments assumed more routine duties. For whatever reason, the problem of slips among the A.A. staff virtually disappeared.)
With the departure of Bobbie B. and the involvement of the General Service Committee, Headquarters activity was divided into two divisions under the overall supervision of the Senior General Secretary, who was now Marian M. She was in direct charge of all public relations, dealing with the press, radio, films, doctors, clergy, etc. She was also responsible for the management of the office and its personnel. She had two assistants, Ann M. and Luc P. Another General Secretary, Ruth B., was in charge of Group Relations, also with two assistants, Jinny T. and Polly P. The Group Relations division was charged with maintaining close relationships with the groups, handling group correspondence and personal visits, and acting as a reservoir of group experiences to draw upon in solving group problems.
Helen B. joined the A.A. staff in December 1949, from the Boston Central Service Office of A.A. She was a tremendous help to Bill, particularly in “selling” the Traditions and the Conference idea to the Fellowship and in organizing the General Service Conference. She served as secretary of the first two Conferences. Ann M. (or Ann L., her married name, which she used for a short period) had joined in the fall of 1947. She was unusually young for an A.A. member in those days—only 30—and had been sober for only about six weeks! “I had no business background,” Ann remonstrates, “as an alcoholic I had been mostly unemployable for a long time, and I wasn’t trained for anything. So God knows why they offered me the job. It’s a miracle.” Ann started as a Junior Secretary, and eventually rotated through every staff assignment at G.S.O., retiring (like her friend, Nell Wing) 35 years later!
Despite her protests that she had a lifelong struggle with feelings of inadequacy, she was perceived by others as being a “heavyweight” in terms of power and influence. Several general managers of G.S.O. remarked on her strong, unshakable personal opinions. This was borne out by her own account of getting up on the Conference floor and speaking against the change in Trustee ratio. “Most people were on Bill’s side,” Ann remembers, “but in my heart I had to oppose our founder and all the other staff members like Lib S. and Eve M. I was so miserable, because I couldn’t help it, I felt terribly strongly that it was wrong. I don’t know why I thought my opinion would make any difference, and of course it didn’t. I felt so awful about it, I threw up.” And when General Service Trustee Bayard P. was enthusiastically recommending publication of “A Member’s Eye View,” Ann H. led the opposition to it. (See Chap. 12) “She was my personal bete noire,” says Bayard. “Opposed everything I ever did.”
However, Ann says of her 35 years at G.S.O., “Remember, there wasn’t any Conference nor even any Traditions when I started. It was thrilling to be here and see A.A. grow around the world. And to have a part in it because of corresponding with those people when they wrote in. [In Argentina, they have framed on the wall Ann’s first letter to Hector, and revere her as the one who carried the A.A. message to their country.) It’s been wonderful to see that happen. And the Internationalists: when Charlotte left, I took over correspondence with Captain Jack [S.) (founder of the Internationalists) and saw that grow, too. That was so exciting.”
There were six A.A. Secretaries and l4 other stenographic, clerical and shipping employees at the end of 1949. Total expenses of the office for the year were $78,978.92.
The term “Headquarters” was dropped in 1950 and replaced by the more descriptive name, General Service Office. And in May, the office moved around the corner to larger quarters at 141 East 44th Street. Rotation was instituted among the Senior General Secretaries; i.e., Ruth B. and Marian M. traded the assignments described above. And in August, Dennis Manders was hired as bookkeeper.
Dennis had held a similar job at Oppenheim Collins department store, where he had met Dorris Carroll. They had fallen in love and decided to marry—but the store didn’t permit married couples to work there. So Dorrie looked around for another position. When Dennis was with her at an employment agency one lunch hour, they asked if he was interested in a job opening with “a publishing company.” Two days later, he was interviewed by Wilbur Smith—”a small, slight man with a deep, sonorous voice”—who was the outside auditor for the Fellowship. “Wilbur later became my mentor,” Dennis recalls. “He was a constant help.” The day afterward, he was interviewed by Hank C. at the latter’s insurance brokerage office in the Lincoln Building. Not until the two of them went over to 141 E. 44th Street to tour the office did young Dennis (he was 26 years old) learn that the organization was Alcoholics Anonymous. After Ruth B. gave her nod of approval, he was offered the job and accepted.
“I took a salary cut,” Dennis says, “from $65 a week down to $57.50. I thought it would be fewer hours than a retail store—my God, was I wrong! I put Saturdays in and took work home on Sundays. A bunch of amateurs were running the operation and Hank was the volunteer manager part-time, trying to straighten it out, and I was brought in as a part of that. Everyone seemed to be doing her own thing. From my point of view it was quite a mess. The former bookkeeper had left months before and nothing had been done since. The gal on the switchboard was writing up the sales of literature. There were two gals in bookkeeping, one never got there before 11:00 a.m. and if the other worked three days a week it was a lot. I had to get rid of both of them. To top it all off, A.A. had had a Convention out in Ohio in July, run by the local people, where they had taken orders for a recording of what turned out to be Dr.Bob’s last talk and one by Bill, too. Then they screwed up and lost the addresses of the people who had ordered these. All they were had were the checks. And this was dumped in my lap to straighten out. That took hours and weeks of correspondence with banks and other detective work, but we found 95% of them. I gave myself six months to whip the place into shape, and then I was going to quit. But after six months I was thoroughly hooked; you would have had to fire me to get rid of me.” Dennis, too, was to stay 35 1/2 years.
Dennis describes Hank C. a man of medium height with a round face. “I remember him as rusty—rusty complexion, rusty hair combed straight back, a small, rusty moustache.” He was an intense man, “hard-nosed,” who could be gruff and unpleasant. “Yet when you got to know him, he was just the nicest guy in the world. He did so much for people without their knowing about it. That was his mode. Would get annoyed, really upset, if you tried to thank him.”
Although the building has long since been demolished, Dennis can still visualize the layout of the office at 141 E. 44th. “It took up a whole floor, facing 44th Street. The reception area was centrally located, so as you came into it there were corridors that went off left and right. The corridor to the left went into a large, large room, which was for the A.A. Secretaries, or Staff, as they are called today. They didn’t have individual offices; they were just spotted around the room at desks, four or five at that time. The corridor that ran to the right went into another large room for the records. No record department then, just one gal working on files and one on an old Kardex system. Also the bookkeeping department, consisting of two gals and myself. Then there was a steno-clerical department, another five or so gals, I guess. And finally you came to the shipping department, with two guys full-time and one half-time. There was a switchboard off the reception area, manned by Mary Lou, a real doll. And our friend Nell Wing was the receptionist when I came in.”
Trustee LeRoy “Chippie” Chipman, retired treasurer of the Rockefeller Foundation and treasurer of the Alcoholic Foundation, which he had helped organize, was around the office a lot, too. A fussy, fastidious person, he hung onto the Foundation’s books for some time before turning them over reluctantly to Dennis. “He still insisted on doing the bank work, to keep me honest.” Dennis also had to deal occasionally with Leonard B. Strong, secretary of the Foundation, whom he remembers as stiff and formal.
Dennis had the accounting end of the office running fairly smoothly by 1951, with the help of two newly hired, efficient women bookkeeping clerks. With the backing of Wilbur Smith and the approval of Hank C., he then undertook the largest expenditure to that date, to introduce mechanization, “which was badly needed.” At a cost of over $3,000, he purchased an NCR 3000 bookkeeping machine. “It was strictly mechanical, like a huge typewriter—you had to throw the carriage over by hand, enough to give the girls bursitis of the shoulder!” Nine years later, it was replaced by a semi-electronic model, which served until computerization in (WHAT YEAR?).
Hank resigned as volunteer manager in 1951 because it was taking too much time from his business. There were three different volunteer managers during the next two years: Bob H., Bob B. and Henry z. “I was left the man of the house, so to speak,” says Dennis, “with the help of advice from Wilbur whenever we needed him. A very shrewd guy.” The succession of managers didn’t work out too well, and while Dennis was expected to help make decisions on the business end of C. S .0., an A.A. member was needed for the service end. Therefore, in 1953, the General Service Committee hired Hank back as general manager, compensated for one-third of his time—the first paid A.A. manager. He resigned as Trustee to take the position. Hank continued to function on the same basis until his death in 1960.
The office received its first transatlantic phone call in October 1950. It was from the Secretary of the London Intergroup office inquiring how television broadcasts involving A.A. had been handled in this country. In an effort to raise group contributions, a film strip in color was released in 1951, showing what went on at G.S.O. and the Grapevine. And the “Exchange Bulletin” listed 15 specific services performed by the office; namely:
1- Directory Service
2- Secretary’s Handbook
3- Monthly Newsletter
4- Publications, Recordings and Translations
5- General Service Conference
6- Service to New Groups
7- Service to “Special” Groups
8- Group Problems
9- “Lone Member” Correspondence
10- Twelve Traditions
11- Relations with Doctors and Clergy
13- Public Relations
14- Speaking at A.A. Gatherings
15- Assistance to Visitors
Thus had the services of the office expanded and developed in the little more than a decade of its existence.
Also, for the first time, correspondence was going out to Conference Delegates—and to outside organizations protesting misuse of the A.A. Directory. Among the personnel changes was the resignation in May of Jinny A. (formerly Jinny T.) because of marriage; and of Ruth B., in November, because of a slip. (See above.) Eve L., from the New York Intergroup office, was hired early the next year, to begin work as a Junior Secretary. Later, as Eve M., she was widely known in the Fellowship as a dynamic,
energetic and highly articulate staff member. Long after her retirement in April 1968, she continued to be in demand as a speaker at A.A. events throughout the U.S./Canada and even abroad (especially in South Africa, which she visited several times.) Lib S. from Baltimore joined the staff the same year.
Correspondence with Lone Members was a relatively new and exciting phenomenon in ’52. Captain Jack S., the original “loner at sea” had been joined by 69 others, who started to call themselves “Internationalists.” The development of new pamphlet literature occupied attention at G.S.O., much of it written by Ralph B. who had been hired as a writer consultant for $500 per month. (See Chap. 12) The annual volume of incoming mail exceeded 31,000 pieces, and over a million copies of A.A. books and pamphlets were sold. The office also reminded the Fellowship that the limit for individual contributions had been established (by the Foundation, two years before) at 1/10 of 1% of the annual budget. At the time, this was, effectively, $100 per year. (Dennis Manders points out that if the same formula were applied in 1985, the limit on individual contributions would be nearer $6,000 per year instead of the $500 set by Conference action.)
Nell Wing became Bill W.’s secretary in 1950, but continued a receptionist, a job she enjoyed because she met so many people. “I was delighted at the number of people who dropped by in those days wanting a copy of the Twelve Steps. Not alcoholics, but people who had heard of them and wanted to read them and use them in their own lives,” Nell recalls. When an A.A. visitor would bring news of a new group, Nell would ceremoniously take him or her over to a large u.s. map on the wall of the reception area and have the visitor put a pin in the proper spot. She would then take them to a staff member or whoever was keeping records and start a Kardex card with the information needed. As the size of the directories grew, it became necessary to send out questionnaire cards to get the necessary information. Nell estimates, however, that no matter how many cards were sent out, they couldn’t count on more than a 50% return—and only half of those would give any count of members in the group. So anything like and accurate total membership count was impossible—and still is! “It just wasn’t too important,” Nell observes.
“Sometimes the only way the early, isolated members had of staying sober was communicating with us. They would write long letters, telling how they were feeling, how they were doing, what luck they were having with finding another drunk. And then the enthusiasm of finding one! Then eventually a goup: ‘we’re having our first meeting tonight.’ And then maybe, ‘We’re having our first convention. Thanks for your help.’ I treasure those.”
Even when she was acting as Bill’s secretary during the days he was in, Nell talked to the visitors. “Bill could really give you short shrift,” she says. “He wasn’t much for small talk.”
Works Publishing Company changed its name in 1953 to A.A. World Services, Inc. Work continued apace on new pamphlets and distribution of the newly published Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, an instant best-seller. Groups in hospitals and prisons were receiving a lot of attention, especially in educating them in the Traditions. Besides helping these new “special” groups get started and coordinating institutions activity, literature packets were offered, the cost paid by individuals or committees sponsoring these groups.
Because of this activity and the growth of the office itself, the Shipping Department was moved in ’53 over to a large building at 305 East 45th Street. Even earlier, the office had tried to discourage literature pick-ups on the premises, both because it was a distraction from the true C.S.O. services and also because it was a service enjoyed by the New York groups that was not available to other groups – so it was felt to be more appropriately a function of the New York Intergroup. But the Intergroup resisted. Now, when someone came by G. to pick up literature, they had to place their order and pay for it there; then they were given a slip to pick up the order at 305 E. 45th, several blocks away. However, even this inconvenience failed to discourage pick-ups!
Among the statistics reported to the 1954 Conference by Hank C. were: orders for books and pamphlets in 1953 totaled 10,264, up from 7,625 the previous year, an increase of over 33%; and the staff had accepted invitations to attend 43 A.A. conventions.
With The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions behind him, “Bill W. was in a kind of transitional stage,” according to Nell Wing. In 1954, he formed an Editorial and Research Team consisting of himself, Nell and a professional writer and editor, Ed B., with several projects in mind. Bill was traveling to gather personal histories for the second edition of the Big Book (See Chap. 12) and needed help in transcribing and editing them. They were supposed to work on “the full-length history of Alcoholics Anonymous;” and ended up producing A.A. Comes of Age—though Bill still hoped to do the full history. Thirdly, Bill had an idea of writing a book which would be a distillation of his own and others’ experience in applying the program to everyday living. His first working title was “After Sobriety,” which he later changed to “In All Our Affairs.”
This editorial and research team began work at 141 E. 44th, but moved the following year to a space adjacent to the Shipping Department in the 305 E. 45th Street building. The reason was partly to relieve the overcrowding at G.S.O., but even more to get away from interruptions and distractions. Ed B., recently discharged from Rockland State Hospital and newly sober, turned out to be feisty and hard to work with. Although his considerable talents in writing and editing were helpful for two or three years, he was then let go. By that time, Bill had sunk into the worst of his depression and was unable to proceed with his full ¬length history or with “In All Our Affairs.” Some of his ideas for the latter book were later re-worked in As Bill Sees It.
“I was kind of all by myself at 305 E. 45th Street for the next three years,” Nell remembers. However, for the projected history she had started digging into the old files and records going all the way back to 1940 and Vesey Street, which were stacked in boxes on shelves reaching to the ceiling in the nearby packing room. Bill encouraged her to continue the digging and sorting and to organize the material. “Because of this research activity,” he wrote, “it is now certain that the basic facts of A.A.’s growth and development never can become distorted.” This “new undertaking,” as he called it, was, of course, the beginning of the A.A. Archives (see below).
In the early 1950’s, after a series of earlier moves, the Grapevine had its offices downtown on East Broadway, near Chinatown. But it was felt that all of A.A.’s service family should be together, and so the editorial office of the magazine, involving two people, was moved to the ground floor of 141 E. 44th St. The circulation and business end stayed on East Broadway. At that time, C.S.O. had no facilities for doing mass mailings, so they relied on the Grapevine downtown to keep the addresses of the groups on an Addressograph system and to address envelopes for mailings.
Thus Bill was able to describe the office this way in 1955: “Today the office is presided over by Chairman Hank, on part time, and six fine Staff Secretaries. These paid staff members are greatly helped by volunteer committeemen who are experts in law, finance, and public relations. About 12 nonalcoholics look after bookkeeping, filing and stenography, and two receptionists preside over the outer office. There visitors see the walls covered with sectional maps showing the world-wide reach of our Fellowship. On a table stands a winged Victory, symbol of the Lasker Award…The editorial offices of the Grapevine are on the floor below. Here editor Don and his volunteer assistants confer with the managing editor and her assistant to meet the monthly deadline. Farther downtown there is a large floorspace where the circulation department looks after the Grapevine’s 40,000 readers and their needs. Three blocks away from the main office we have a good-sized loft space where all the shipping and mailing is done. This now runs into tons of material a month. Six busy lads spend full time at it. Last year they shipped about 40,000 books and hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, many of them newly designed and edited largely through the work of Ralph, our consultant on pamphlet literature…Down one side of the long packing room, on shelves reaching to the ceiling, are scores of boxed-up files. These are the old records of our Headquarters, going clear back to the days at Vesey Street. The whole story of A.A. is hidden in these boxes, waiting only to be searched out, and we have begun the job…”
In March 1955, Hazel R., from the New York Intergroup staff, was hired to replace Helen B., who resigned to be married and moved to Texas. Hazel R. was to have an extraordinary impact on the office and the Fellowship. Trustees, Delegates and associates speak of her even yet with deep warmth and affection that seems reserved especially for her. “Hazel was beloved by everybody. Absolutely beloved by everyone, states Ann H. unequivocally. “They all wanted her at their particular conferences and conventions.” Herb M. called her the mainstay of the office, “the iron butterfly.” “Hazel was a special friend of mine,” says Bob P. “I always said that and I believe it, but after I became manager at G.S.O. and traveled a lot to the areas, I found that wherever I went the oldtimers still wanted to speak of Hazel—and this was maybe ten years after she had died! You know what they all said? They said, ‘Hazel was a special friend of mine.'” Beth K. says, “Hazel made it all, all right – whatever you were doing. I remember once Herb didn’t like something I had been working on, and I went in crying to complain to Hazel. I said, ‘Nobody cares, Hazel.’ And she said, ‘I care, Beth.’ And then I felt all right. She had that quality of making you feel you were the only person at that moment.”
These were exciting times. As 1955 rolled ’round, overseas groups were corresponding regarding translations of A.A. literature into Finnish, Norwegian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. AAWS was printing 500 copies of the first Spanish translation of the text of the Big Book. There were lone members in Asia, Africa, Europe and Central and South America—in addition to the Internationalists at sea. The office was consulting on a film which would feature A.A., “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.” There were 275 groups in prisons and 200 in hospitals. Preparations for the 20th Anniversary Convention in St.Louis, including introduction of the second edition of the Big Book, required nearly everyone’s attention.
Money remained tight. The operating budget for C.S.O. in 1956 was $162,500. Group contributions fell $14,918 short of meeting the cost of group services. There were six staff members and 23 other employees working at G.S.O. The name of the regular newsletter was changed to the “A.A. Exchange Bulletin.” In August 1956 Marian F. resigned to devote full time to her home, and Anita R. took her place. A few months later, Jane F., an experienced businesswoman, joined the staff. As the Fellowship continued to grow, the workload was heavy; for example, the duties of Hazel R. were listed in 1958 as:
Board member of A.A. World Services
Secretary, Policy Committee of General Service Board
Secretary, General Service Conference
Secretary, 1960 International Convention
Correspondence with groups in 16 states
In 1958, in an effort to acquaint groups in the area with what went on at G.S.O., an open house was held on a Saturday, to which G.S.R.’s and other service people were invited. It proved to be sufficiently popular that it was held annually thereafter (with only an occasional hiatus) to the present time. By 1985, 700 or more people flocked to the G.S.O. open house by the busload from as far away as Boston and even Montreal to the north and east, and Washington, D.C. to the south, pouring out love and gratitude, taxing physical facilities and personnel to the limit.
Jane F., as it turned out, lasted less than two years. She “got into everybody’s job but her own,” and began feuding with others in the office almost immediately. For example, when Dennis Manders discovered she was using accounting clerks to cash personal checks at the bank and put a stop to it, Jane enlisted another staff member in a campaign to get the Controller fired. When she herself was let go in early 1959, Hank C. called the staff and several other key people together to explain why. When he was finished, Ann M. said, “This makes us all feel rather insecure in our jobs, you know.” To which Hank replied, “Well, whoever said you weren’t?”
“That was the way Hank was,” says Dennis, “gruff and very demanding. He wasn’t well liked by many people. But Hazel and I weren’t two-member fan club of Hank G. We truly admired the man greatly.”
Beth K., who was hired April 13, 1959, to replace Jane, proved to be a dedicated and durable staff member until her retirement in 1984. She served eventually on every staff assignment. The hiring process which she remembers was probably typical. Sober since 1951, Beth had first heard of G.S.O. through her sponsor, Lyb S., who worked there. Beth had worked at New York Intergroup for four years when she was invited’ to fill out an application fort he G.S.O. staff opening. She was interviewed not only by Hank C. and the Staff but also by the New York Trustees. “All of a sudden I found myself with speaking dates all over the city,” she says with a chuckle, “and when I would get up to speak and look out, I would see Hank and Eve or Hazel or some other staff member sitting there and listening. Because speaking was one of the requirements, and this was part of the screening process.”
Beth reported for work just a week before the Conference and was immediately assigned to help Herb M., an in-town Trustee who was very active on the public information committee. He was to present the very first paper at the Conference, on A.A.’s “cooperation but not affiliation” with outside agencies. “I worked very hard on that paper with Herb and the rest of the staff. They were marvelous in giving me ideas and then reviewing it and checking it and adding to it. Good cooperation. And that paper became the pamphlet that has been used, with revisions, ever since in CPC work. There was no CPC then; it was part of public relations.”
The space at 141 E. 44th was “hopelessly cramped” by 1959, and A.A. leased the whole 18th floor at 305 E. 45th St. As it was a loft building, the offices, rest rooms, and work space had to be constructed, which took about a year. The move still represented quite a saving, however, as the annual rental was about $3.25 per square foot versus $6.50 per square foot at 141. “So we got twice the space for the same money,” Dennis points out, “and we actually took a little more than that. All the Grapevine operation was moved there, and we brought the shipping department up from the 12th floor.” Nell Wing was tickled to be reunited with the rest of G.S.O. She shared a large office with Bill.
The move was a nightmare for Dennis, who was in charge—mainly because the 44th Street building was partly residential. The management wouldn’t let the furniture be brought out through the lobby, so every desk, every chair, every file cabinet had to be taken to the basement and wrestled up a narrow little stairway to the sidewalk and into the moving truck. The whole move was made after the office had closed; it took all night.
There was no room to spare at 305 E. 45th. Not long after the move, G.S.O. began to knock walls down and expand. Additional space was taken on another floor for the meeting room. Although Bill continued to come in two days a week—and, of course, was present at Board meetings and Conferences—he did much of his work at Stepping Stones, usually with Nell Wing assisting as his secretary. “Bedford Hills was my second home,” says Nell. (After Bill died, Nell continued her close friendship with and help to Lois W. and continued the present to spend several days a week at Stepping Stones.)
Just before the 1960 International Convention in July, Hank C. suffered a ruptured appendix. After he recovered, he was invited to Great Britain to visit their new G.S.O. and tour their Intergroup offices. There, on October 26, he was killed in a plane crash. Herb M. was asked by the Board to take over as Chairman of General Services and general manager of G.S.O. for a three month period, and at the end of that time was asked to continue first on a 2/3 time and later on a 3/4 time basis.
Herb M., whose background was in advertising and marketing, was held in high regard not only by Bill, to whom he was an immense help during trying and ticklish times (See Chap. 12) but by his other associates as well. Several staff members from the ’60’s recall that they frequently left the manager’s office in tears, but they also give him grudging praise. “Herb was a tough taskmaster,” declares Beth K., “but he also helped you grow and stretch.” Cora Louise B. sounds almost the same note: “Herb M. did something wonderful for me—he knew how to get me to reach, to try to do things I thought I couldn’t do. He gave me the feeling that he would back me up, and he did. And if I got into trouble with it, he’d help me with it. So I did all kinds of things I was afraid to do, because he told me I could do them.” And Bayard P., who came onto the AAWS Board when Herb was its President as well as manager of G.S.O. says, “I have always thought that God created Herb uniquely to be the general manager. He had an extraordinary combination of talents for that job—skill in handling people, creativeness, innovativeness, sound judgement. I think he just did a superb job. He also ran a very good meeting; he kept people on track without hurting their feelings.”
Herb is credited by Dr. Jack Norris, who was Board Chairman during his tenure, with making drastic changes in pamphlet publishing and purchasing of printing which resulted in significant savings. “He put the office on a more businesslike basis,” says Dr. Jack. The changes involved a run-in with Ralph B. Ralph had been engaged in 1952 as a writing and publications consultant for the then princely fee of $500 a month for 1/3 of his time. He was immensely productive, not only writing many of A.A.’s basic pamphlets which are in use today but also writing the Conference reports, handling the press room at International Conventions, etc. In addition to writing and designing the pamphlets, he was also given the job of carrying them on through production and printing. He used printers whom he knew from his public relations business, with whom he had a close relationship. Herb, also familiar with publication work, faulted Ralph’s printers on quality, service and particularly on price. When he made a move to change, Ralph was angered, which led to an exchange of heated words, and Herb fired Ralph by phone, which the latter especially resented. Ralph remained estranged completely from G.S.O. (Bob P., who had known Ralph B. professionally, tried in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s to involve him again at G.S.O., without success.)
Herb introduced system in pamphlet publishing. He assigned Nell wing the responsibility for carrying them through the production process: copy-editing, copyrighting, and updating them, and circulating them among the staff for review each time they came up for reprinting.
When Herb took over as manager, the six A.A. Staff Members were: Lyb S., Anita R., Ann H., Beth K., Eve M. and Hazel R. They rotated every year, but Ann H. concentrated on A.A. in other countries, as this was a period of growth and expansion overseas in which G.S.O./New York played a vital, helping role. To avoid staff burn-out, Herb, with the approval of the AAWS Board, introduced a policy of granting senior staff members a sabbatical leave of six months to a year’s duration at half pay, during which they were expected to enrich their personal A.A. life through travel or other activity. Only two staff members, Ann M. and Eve M., were able to take leaves before the experiment was abandoned because of the confusion in arranging replacements to handle the growing work load.
Lyb S. resigned in July 1961 and was replaced by Midge M., who had been secretary (i.e., manager) of the Boston Central Service Office. Waneta N., a veteran of the Detroit Intergroup, was hired in January 1964, to take the place of Ann H. while the latter was on sabbatical, and stayed on. And in October 1965, Cora Louise B. was added.
A pert Southern belle from Mississippi, wife of a soft-spoken Episcopal clergyman who was Chairman of the Department of Religion at New York University, Cora Louise had disgraced herself repeatedly because of her alcoholism and sunk into a state of humiliation and desperation before sobering up in Alcoholics Anonymous in 1957. Eighteen months later, a friend told her about a staff opening at G.S.O. Although she had no special qualifications or job experience, she visited the office and filled out an application. They informed her that four years of sobriety were a prerequisite, but encouraged her to keep in touch. She was called back three years later to be interviewed by Hank C., the staff and in-town Trustees, only to lose out to Midge because of the latter’s Intergroup experience. As openings occurred over the next three years, the office called Cora Louise twice more to see if she was still interested, but she had a job which she felt she couldn’t leave. When still another call came in 1965, her husband, Lee, advised her to give it a try, and so she came to work at G.S.O. June 15, less than three weeks prior to the International Convention in Toronto.
Dynamic and demanding, Cora Louise B. left an indelible mark on the office over the next nearly 15 years. A prodigious worker and marvelously competent, she was somewhat held in awe by her fellow staff members, and outright feared by the stenographers and clerks. She became widely known throughout the Fellowship, as she both charmed and inspired A.A. audiences; Bob H. considered her “perhaps the finest woman speaker in A.A.”
Cora Louise says, “Working at the General Service Office turned out to be the second most rewarding experience of my life -second only to getting- sober in A.A. in the first place. From the minute I got there, I loved it. It just blew my mind to learn what a great, big, wide world of A.A. there is out there. I adored the work and liked most of the people I worked with—and even those I didn’t like, I respected.”
Herb H. was quick to realize she could shoulder almost any amount of responsibility and loaded it on her. “For instance,” she says, “at one time I had Institutions, Internationalists, the Literature Committee and area correspondence. During those two years on the Literature Committee, we published the book we now call As Bill Sees It and the first comic books. And Institutions included both prisons and hospitals. It was busy, I’ll tell you!” Another time, “CLB” as she was nicknamed, was Secretary of the International Convention in Miami. At the same time, she was on the Public Information assignment just before it was split into P.I and CPC because of the huge amount of work. “I had the P.I. Committee and all those clippings and wrote the letters about them and the letters to all the professional people and was planning the Convention and couldn’t get enough stenographic help assigned to me. It almost put me under.”
Cora Louise was probably more responsible than any other individual for creating the CPC assignment. As she was handling P.I. (as described above) when the split came, Bob H. asked her if she would take over the new function, including the secretariat of the newly formed Trustees’ and Conference CPC Committees. “That first year, I just didn’t know how to string the beads to make it work,” CLB confesses. ” Yev G., who was on the committee and also worked at the National Council on Alcoholism, helped me a lot on how to organize it. I wrote to every State [government] and all the private treatment centers and got their literature for our files.” With the passage of the Hughes Bill that year, suddenly the armed forces were mandated to begin alcoholism treatment programs and the 50 States formed alcoholism agencies on a crash basis. “Sometimes we would get 200 letters a week just from the armed forces saying ‘we have to start a program on this base -it was an onslaught. So we worked out form letters and a package of literature -I gave away so much literature, I got in trouble with Dennis.
“The whole [alcoholism] field was developing almost faster than we could deal with it. Then came all the hue and cry from the groups, the A.A. members, which was far more serious to us: ‘These agency people, these treatment people are doing this and doing that, and how are we going to stop ’em? They’re trying to take A.A. away from us…'” The need to answer these anguished protests led to the writing of Guidelines, a distillation of A.A. experience on a given subject, which could be sent in place of a very lengthy letter. Guidelines were developed on treatment centers, court programs, armed services, A.A. members working in the field, etc. “I leaned over backward to try to get the A.A.’s to be the ones to show tolerance,” says Cora Louise, “and to grasp that this was a way to carry the A.A. message. We gave away literature by the bushels and got orders for jillions more, and, of course, A.A. simply grew by leaps and bounds as a result.” (For CLB’s part in the birth of Regional Forums, see Chap. XX)
Kleina Jones, who joined G.S.O. in 1961 as Supervisor of the Stenographic Department, was a key figure in administration at the office for the next 15 years. She was promoted in 1971 to Office Manager which included the duties of Personnel Manager and Functions Manager, making hotel arrangements for Board Meeting weekends, Conferences and International Conventions. A year later, Denise Stern was promoted from supervisor of the Steno/Clerical Department to Office Manager, and Kliena retained her other duties and added the function of “Departmental Coordinator”—to expedite the handling of requests and services which involved more than one department. In the mid ’70’s, Donna Berkowitz took over from Denise Stern, and Shirley Grant assumed Kleina’s responsibilities, which she still had in 1985. Tony Osnato was promoted to Office Manager and Functions Manager in 1980.
Dennis Manders, who had actually been performing the job of Controller for several years, was given the formal title in 1966. The same year, an employee retirement plan was put into effect. A tax-sheltered annuity program was also offered, paid for solely by the employees.
Throughout the 1960’s, the Directors and Trustees serving on the AAWS Board were all “in-town” and hence were often closely involved with G.S.O. The ubiquitous Allen B., the General Service Trustee who had stepped into the breach to help run the Long Beach Convention, now framed the by-laws under which A.A. World Services, Inc. was reorganized into a membership corporation with the Trustees as the Members. Also, in 1964, he represented AAWS in a trip to El Salvador and Columbia to establish literature distribution centers for Central and South America. (This aim was only partially successful, but Allen is credited with helping start G.S.O.’s in both countries. See Chap. XX) Gene K. provided astute business direction. Sumner C., who had headed the New York Intergroup, brought solid service experience. Adrian F. translated to and from Dutch and Flemish and helped G.S.O’s relations with Holland and Belgium. Bayard P., a senior advertising agency executive, was a powerhouse on the Board. And three persons who were later to hold management positions at G.S.O. were Directors in the ’60’s: Bob H., Niles P. and Bob P.
Throughout the ’60’s and ’70’s, the volume of correspondence in Spanish increased, and G.S.O. tried always to have a bilingual stenographer in-house to translate incoming and outgoing letters for the staff. Translations of A.A. books and pamphlets were done either in Latin American countries or by Spanish translators hired by the office. The aim of G.S.O. was ever to provide the same service to all groups and members regardless of their language. A giant step forward was taken in 1969 with the arrival on staff of Mary Ellen U. An attractive, effervescent brunette, she was born in Columbia, South America of a well-to-do American father and Colombian mother. She was able to communicate fluently with A.A.’s throughout the Spanish-speaking world and advise countries in Central and South America in their service activities. However, as Mary Ellen rotated among the staff assignments like any other staff member, in 1974 Yolanda L., a native of Cuba who had also lived in Brazil and Columbia, was hired to handle Spanish correspondence. Although she was a sensitive and compassionate A.A. member, she proved unsuited to office work and left after about a year. When Mary Ellen U. – having married and become Mary Ellen W.—retired in 1978, Beth K. picked up responsibility for Spanish correspondence, once again using the cumbersome system of working through a bilingual stenographer.
There were 466 Spanish-speaking groups in the U.S./Canada by 1984, and they increasingly pressed for a service representative of their own at G.S.O. Such a person was provided with the hiring of Vicente H. as a non-rotating staff member. Vicente, born in Ecuador, had come to Los Angeles in 1950, where he joined A.A. in 1976. He immediately became active in service, working as a coordinator at an Hispanic Intergroup Office and helping create a Spanish District in the Southern California Area. He also translated several A.A. leaflets and pamphlets into Spanish. At G.S.O., he was not only able to communicate directly with Spanish ¬speaking A.A. world, as Mary Ellen had done, but he represented the Board and the office by attending conventions, Regional Forums, World Service Meetings, etc.
G.SO. also had a sizeable French-speaking constituency, of course, concentrated mainly in the Province of Quebec, Canada. And they, too, had to be provided with equal services. However, the French Literature Committee translated and published all A.A. literature in French, including the Service Manual and other service material. Generally speaking, the Quebecois were more bilingual in English than the Hispanics, and usually were able to correspond in English. Nevertheless, such universally—used items as loose—leaf covers for Group Handbooks, contribution acknowledgements, and International Convention programs were eventually printed in all three languages.
Having survived a massive heart attack, Herb M. announced his intention to retire at the end of 1967 at age 65 after seven sometimes turbulent years at G.S.O. The logical choice to succeed him was Bob H. Sober since 1942, he was one of a dwindling few who had actually been sponsored by Bill W. With a background in advertising and communications, Bob had served on the General Service Committee and had even been a volunteer manager of the office in 1952 during the hiatus in Hank G.’s tenure. More recently, he had served since August 1964 as a Director on the A.A. World Services Board and hence was thoroughly familiar with G.S.O.’s activities; and in April 1966, he had been elected a General Service Trustee. He was held in high regard not only by Herb but by Board Chairman Dr. Jack Norris and Trustee Bayard P., among others. Bob H. was the first general manager to serve full time.
Bob was tall and spare, with a trim, military moustache. His knowledge of Alcoholics Anonymous was encyclopedic, and his feeling for the Traditions and Concepts was intuitive and uncompromising. He was extremely nervous, as illustrated by one of Dennis Manders’ favorite stories, as follows. The “down” signal for the elevators [at 468 Park Ave., So.] was broken. When it was fixed, the repairman said the breakdown was due to people jabbing it impatiently. Forthwith, Bob issued a memorandum to all employees directing them to cease and desist on penalty of dismissal. The very next day, as Dennis and Bob were waiting for the elevator, who was jabbing savagely at the down button? Bob H., of course!
As Bob H. took over in 1968, the General Service Office had 43 full-time and seven part-time employees. The A.A. Staff consisted of Midge H., Ann M., Beth K., Waneta N., Cora Louise B., Hazel R. and Eve H. (who retired later that year and was replaced by Mary Ellen U.) The Steno/Clerical Department, supervised by Kleina Jones, had 14 employees; the Shipping Department, under Al Cryan, had six full-time and five part-time men; and the remaining employees were divided among the Accounting and Records Departments.
In 1968, the office was continuing to grow and become more crowded, so Bob H. and Dennis set up an appointment with the building management firm, Cross & Brown, to negotiate a new lease for more space beginning in 1970. They got a shock. Cross & Brown wanted a 60% increase in rent, with no concessions and no dealing. “We not only couldn’t afford to expand, we couldn’t afford to stay!” says Dennis.
(It turned out that the owners were trying to force the industries and businesses out of the building, which was near the edge of the United Nations property, in order to convert it to apartments. Retribution of a kind came in 1972 when, shortly before 8:00 a.m. on the opening day of the General Service Conference, a tremendous explosion rocked the East Side of Manhattan. The entire west wall of 305 E. 45th was blown away in a blast traced to a gas leak. “Thank God we weren’t still there,’ says Dennis. “At that hour on Monday, we would have had a full crew in the Shipping Department, getting a truckload of stuff ready to go over to the conference. And we would have been locked out of our offices for at least two years, while the litigation went on. ‘But for the grace of God…'”)
With Board approval, Bob and Dennis began a search for new quarters which continued for several months. “We looked at 15 to 18 different places,” Dennis recalls. Their choice was a pleasing, solidly built loft building at 468 Park Ave., So., between 31st and 32nd Streets. Its Park Avenue address as somewhat misleading, for it was on the fringes of a wholesale district, along what was sometimes called “non-profit row” (or, earlier and more appropriately, “publishers’ row.”) A.A. initially leased two floors, the 5th and 6th, for ten years at an extraordinarily attractive annual rental of about $6.00 per square foot, with escalations allowed only for increases in real estate taxes or building employees’ salaries.
Again the offices and other workspaces had to be constructed in the loft floors – including lighting, plumbing and installation of central air conditioning. It took about six months to get the new quarters ready, but even that tight schedule necessitated a three-month extension on the lease on 45th St. at double the rent. Austerity continued to be the style at the new offices: linoleum floors, light painted walls and second hand furniture, wooden desks for the staff and administrative people, battleship-gray steel for the rest. The move was completed in a rush April 1, 1970. Within three weeks, it was conference time; and within three months, the International Convention was held in Miami. (Exactly the same stress-producing schedule had marked the 1960 move.)
A.A. was embarking on an era of unprecedented growth. Sparked by the passage of the Hughes Bill (See Chap. 12) and the resulting nationwide boom in the alcoholism field – especially the opening of thousands of treatment centers – (See Chap. 15) A.A. was estimated to be doubling in size every seven years. This growth was manifested at G.S.O. in publishing, staff workload and activity of the supporting departments. From ’69 to ’72, sales of literature increased 25% per year! At first, Bob H., believing it to be a temporary phenomenon, was reluctant to expand or reorganize or increase the payroll. Dennis, as Controller, concurred. “We thought we could control it with some outside ‘temps’, some overtime and the like,” he recalls, “because we thought it wouldn’t last.”
This line of thinking reflected the philosophy of financial management followed by all general managers of G.S.O. and certainly by the Controller. Dennis expresses it this way: “My whole aim in working for the Fellowship was to strive continually to do things more economically, to get more and more out of the A.A. dollar. I feel that whether it is a contribution or payment for a piece of literature, every A.A. dollar is really a dollar in trust. And I managed to pass along this philosophy to the people I worked with. We asked ourselves, ‘How will this expenditure improve the quality of sobriety?'” So Dennis is especially proud of the improvements made in systems and technology, which permit more services to be performed without adding more people.
Bob P. later expressed a similar management philosophy of his own at Regional Forums, saying: “My objective is to prevent your General Service Office from becoming a bureaucracy. We must take advantage of every advance in methods and equipment to render more service without continually adding more people.”
But in 1972, the problem was that it had taken Bob H. and Dennis almost three years to face the fact that the exploslve growth wasn’t going to go away. By that time, all the systems at G.S.O. were suffering badly. Shipment of literature was lagging from four to eight weeks behind orders. New groups were registering at the rate of 15 or 20 a day, but were experiencing exasperating delays in receiving New Group Handbooks. Preparation of A.A. Directories by hand, from group records kept manually on cards, was a prodigious, incredibly tedious and time-consuming task; and the Directories were full of errors and obsolete before they were received, similar deficiencies ran through the whole organization.
The first move was to decide to add necessary additional employees in the Shipping Department, Accounting Department and Records Department. The next move was for the AAWS Board to authorize a management consulting firm, Ferro, Berdon & Co., to come in in May 1973 and suggest ways to smooth the work flow and improve efficiency. On the Service side of G.S.O., Eleanor N. was added to the Staff in 1970, bringing the number to eight. On the night of January 24, 1971, Bill w. died in the hospital in Miami Beach, Florida, and the G.S.O.—which had been prepared by Bob H. for this eventuality—swung into action to inform the Trustees and the Fellowship around the world, as well as the nation’s press (For detailed account, see Chap XX on GSB) Only a few months later, another blow was suffered when Hazel R., who now was Assistant General Manager, went on sick leave with a fatal brain tumor. She died September 10. Valerie S. was hired to fill the vacancy, and Midge M. became Assistant to the General Manager. Phyllis M. further augmented the Staff in late ’71, followed by Betty L. early in ’72, and June R., the first Black Staff member, in ’73. General Service Trustee Niles P. (See Chap. 2) resigned in early ’73 to come to G.S.O: as Assistant General Manager.
So, to recap, the G.S.O. executives and Staff now consisted of Bob H., General Manager; Niles P., Ass’t. G.M.; Midge M., Administrative Ass’t.; and nine other Staff members—Cora Louise B., Beth K., Betty L., Ann M., Phyllis M., Waneta N., June R.,Valerie S. and Mary Ellen U.
To accommodate the growth, an additional floor (5,000 sq. ft.) was leased at 468 Park Ave., South, in 1973. When the moves were completed, the Staff and the Steno/Clerical Department occupied the sixth floor, along with a conference room and an employees’ lounge; the Accounting and Records Departments shared the fifth floor with the Grapevine, which also had more space; and the eighth floor contained the Shipping Department and the Archives.
Even after these major steps had been taken, Bob H. still perceived a need for a further reorganization in responsibility at the top. He needed a general manager for the office while he retained the positions of Chairman of General Services and President of A.A. World Services, dealing with both the Trustees and the Directors. So, already 66 years of age, he announced to the General Service Board in 1973 that he intended to retire in 1977, upon reaching the age of 70; and he wanted to bring in a new general manager as soon as possible, to provide a maximum period of overlap. The Board agreed in principle, but some members were concerned that such an arrangement would make the salary budget top-heavy. Owen “Bud” Flanagan, A.A.’s outside auditor and financial consultant, reassured them that the administrative overhead at G.S.O. would still represent an unusually small percentage of the total budget, compared with most other organizations.
A search committee appointed by the Board considered about eight names of potential candidates from widely scattered areas of the U.S. and Canada. When contacted, several of these were unwilling to move to New York. For this and other reasons, the field was narrowed to two: Tom C., the first Trustee-at-Large from Canada; and Bob P., who had served simultaneously on both the Grapevine and AAWS Boards and as General Service Trustee (See Chap. 2) before rotating out in 1972. The Board decided on Bob P. at its July 1974 meeting. He reported to G.S.O. September 1, and assumed the post of general manager on January 1, 1975, in tandem with Bob H. as planned.
Tall, slender and white—haired at age 56, Bob P. came from a background in writing and publications. As a public relations executive, he was also experienced in management, personnel administration and budgeting. Sober since 1961, he was an active member of local A.A. in Connecticut, where he resided. Before reporting to C.S.O., Bob P. had luncheon interviews with each of the staff members individually; and after reporting, he spent several hours as a working observer in each of the supporting departments.
To meet the demands imposed by the enormous growth in A.A. in the years from roughly 1967 to 1985, the organization, methods and procedures of the office changed in fundamental ways. Changes begun by Bob H. in the early ’70’s evolved under the joint management of the two Bobs and were carried still further by Bob P. Some of the more dramatic and interesting metamorphoses were these.
Keeping records of the groups current—and publishing the A.A. Directories and maintaining mailing lists from these records—was always a prime function and a prime headache. In the early days, a Junior Secretary (i.e., junior staff member) assisted by a couple of steno/clerks, was assigned the job of posting daily the records of new groups and changes in information on existing groups. It was done by hand on cards which were kept in Cardineer or Roladex file systems. As the number of groups grew to tens of thousands, the number of record changes grew to several hundred per week, and in the ’60’s, a separate Records Department was established, eventually numbering eight employees plus a Supervisor.
The real crunch came at Directory time, when the records on the cards had to be typed in-house on a Veritype machine, and then pasted up and sent out for printing. But first, group contributions had to be transferred from the Accounting Department ledgers to the cards—and then totaled and trial balances run, before they were typed. And, of course, the entire Directory had to be proof-read and checked back against the cards before it was printed. All this required untold hours of labor. Not only the records clerks and accounting employees, but also staff members and all other available hands burned the midnight oil for weeks before the Directory was finally published and mailed each year.
In the late 1960’s, G.S.O. requested the Conference to permit them to stop listing group contributions in the Directories, but the Delegates voted to continue. Meanwhile, a better way of producing the directories was being sought. A printing firm on Long Island which was being used to print the “Box 4-5-9” bulletin and other G.S.O. jobs were themselves trying to convert to electronic type setting. They were dealing with J.Schiller, Inc. in New Jersey, whom they were glad to introduce to Midge M. and Dennis. And in this way, C.S.O. changed over to punching its directory information into tape which was then fed into a mini¬computer at Schiller; and the output was “cold” type in a format ready to be printed. Multiple proofing was reduced, human error was cut drastically, and the whole process speeded up. The Conference granted a moratorium on publishing a Directory in 1973 to permit the changeover.
Group records was the first office function to be put on G.S.O.’s computer when it went on line in September 1977. From terminals in the Records Department, record clerks entered new data swiftly and accurately, and the computer could then print out, on command, accurate listings for Directories or for mailing lists. Actually, the Board had authorized funds to explore the feasibility of using a computer as far back as 1968, but the idea encountered some reluctance based on the feeling that it would somehow reduce the personal touch that so typifies A.A. But only two or three years later, when G.S.O. was drowning in data, a small task force was organized and set to work to bring A.A. into the computer age.
On the task force was Bob P., “Bud” Flanagan and Ed Gordon, who had been hired as an Assistant Controller and Assistant Administrative Officer to back up Dennis Manders. They sought advice and guidance from Prof. Jack M., past Trustee and head of the Data Processing Department at Eastern Michigan University; and from several other consultants. The delay was perhaps fortuitous, for the technology was changing at a dizzying speed, and mini-computers of the kind most suitable for A.A were just becoming available. From the day it began operation until the present time, not only were office procedures undergoing constant change and improvement, but the computer itself underwent continual expansion and upgrading. “About all that’s left of the original,” declares Ed Gordon, “is part of the metal frame.” A qualified Data Processing Manager, and eventually an assistant, were added to the roster of employees. On the other hand, the Records Department is now able to handle several times the volume of work as before, with three fewer people—reduced through attrition.
“Maintaining A.A. mailing lists is like cutting your way through a tropical jungle with a penknife,” is the way one employee put it in the early ’70’s. And yet this was the very heart of G. S. 0. ‘s communicating with the Fellowship. When the office took over the task from the Grapevine in 1953, it was given to the Mail and Shipping Department. Names and addresses were kept on Scriptomatic stencils, stored in boxes and fed into an envelope addressing machine when a mailing had to be made. New stencils had to be constantly typed from Records Department cards and substituted for obsolete stencils by Mail Department employees, supposedly during their slack time but more usually on overtime. Regular groups, hospital groups, prison groups, loners & Internationalists, G.S.R.’s, D.C.M.’s, Delegates present and past, Trustees present and past, and so on and on: more than 40 different mailing lists in all—all with countless inaccuracies, countless duplications, obsolete names never deleted and new names never added—it was an almost hopeless mess. Finally a dauntless woman with a unique talent for organization and a reputation for getting things done was snatched from the Stenographic Department—staff members wept to see her go—and was given the task of bringing order out of chaos. Given the title of Manager of Special Projects, she sometimes took on other temporary jobs (such as producing the Final Conference Reports) but her main “project” was to organize and maintain G.S.O.’s mailing lists. The computer arrived in the nick of time to make the project do-able. Today, Dorothy “Dotty” Mccinity is known by name to literally thousands of A.A. ‘5 throughout the Fellowship, especially those who avail themselves of the service of providing mailing labels for area and regional mailings.
Among the most revolutionary changes in organization, methods and procedures took place in the Shipping Department. The shipping clerks had always handled the incoming and outgoing mail in addition to shipping literature. But the volume of incoming mail grew to an average of 500 pieces a day—and as many as 1,500 pieces on a day following a long weekend. And every piece generated a an outgoing letter or package. So a Mail Department was created, separate from a Shipping and Receiving Department. It was also given responsibility for assembling and mailing the mountains of “no-charge” literature packages distributed by G.S.O.
From the earliest times, orders for literature were filled by a shipping clerk who assembled the assortment of books and pamphlets and then “mummy-wrapped” it with heavy wrapping paper secured with a gummed tape and wrapped tightly with twine. The packages were almost indestructible, but each was a custom creation that took an inordinate amount of time and materials. No wonder order filling had fallen weeks and months behind! After Bob P. took field trips to see how other large shippers of books and pamphlets did it, he introduced the assembly line concept into shipping. Two or three clerks concentrated on picking the orders as they came down from the Accounting Department and stacking the material on a standard-sized corrugated-cardboard base. These stacks were then lifted in turn by wrappers, each working at his own bench where he formed a proper-sized carton on the spot and fitted the literature in it with packing material to hold it snug. The cartons were quickly closed, sealed and placed on a roller-conveyor which moved them by gravity to the mailing clerk. He placed each carton on an electronic scale which automatically computed and generated the proper postage sticker from the weight and destination—at the same time, printing out a complete record of the shipment.
Now orders were shipped within 24 hours of their receipt in the Shipping and Receiving Department, and 100 to 150 orders per day could be handled with half as many people as had been employed at one time.
A.A. growth and the increase in treatment facilities were accompanied by an increase in sales of Conference-approved literature. Alcoholics Anonymous became a major publisher. Each year set new records and in 1985, G.S.O. distributed, in round numbers:
1,385,000 miscellaneous items
(The figures include literature in English, French and Spanish, for the U.S./Canada only.)
With this volume of publishing, it became apparent to Dennis Manders in the late 1960’s that substantial savings could be realized by buying paper directly from the manufacturers rather than through the printers, who added on a commission. Jack Blackwell, an executive of American Book, the company which printed the Big Book, put him in touch with S.D. Warren Co., a top line paper manufacturer, and a deal was struck to buy paper by the carload. (Of historical interest, Jack Blackwell was the son of Ed Blackwell of the Cornwall Press, whose faith in Bill W. and the infant A.A. movement enabled the Big Book to be printed back in 1939.) Later, C.S.O. applied the same thinking to direct purchase of the cloth and cardboard for book covers. Eventually, in 1978, Robert Cubelo was given the responsibility for letting printing contracts and purchasing publishing materials. In 1985, in this capacity, he spent about $2,500,000 of A.A. money—which, of course, was immediately recovered from literature sales and again recycled.
Also with the growth of A.A., the number of Intergroups and Central Offices grew to about 400 by 1985, and, with few exceptions, they stocked A.A. literature and sold it to their supporting groups. To encourage this, G.S.O.. offered these offices quantity discounts on top of the regular A.A. discount. In the late 1960’s,, the Los Angeles Central Office, purchasing for about a dozen other smaller service offices in Southern California, had become the Fellowship’s largest “customer” of G.S.O. And Carroll A., manager of the L.A.C.O., was unhappy at delays in receiving his literature orders. He was invited to New York in 1975 by Bob H. to explore ways of improving service. As the result of that meeting, arrangements were made with a warehouse in the Los Angeles area to store A.A. literature in quantity and transship it. The warehouse was linked to G.S.O. by teletype. Then, when Carroll or one of his associated central offices ordered literature by mail or phone, the order was processed and immediately relayed to the warehouse which dispatched the shipment by truck, often the same day.
Once the system was set up, additional warehouses were established rapidly in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, New Jersey, Toronto and Calgary. This network provided fast service to Intergroups and Central Offices throughout the U.S./Canada. It also gave birth to an Inventory Control Department at G.S.O, reporting originally to Charles Columbia, Assistant Controller. “When A.A. dollars are converted into books and pamphlets, that inventory still represents A.A. dollars, and must be accounted for just as carefully,” Charles points out. Accounting for it was complicated as the literature inventory was dispersed in several printing plants, seven warehouses, and G.S.O.’s own Shipping Department. Furthermore, each title was depleting at a different rate in each location. Yet it was absolutely essential that G.S.O. know far enough in advance that it was time to revise and reprint each title so that it would not run out. For if a title had to be back-ordered, the expense of bookkeeping and handling was prohibitive. So this was the task of the newly created Inventory Control Department.
(After 1985, with the formation of a Publications Department under the direction of Vinnie McC., Bob Cubelo was made a part of that function in charge of purchasing, warehouses and Inventory Control.)
The Accounting Department had grown unwieldy, but under an exceptionally able manager, John Kirwin, it was divided into sections: order processing, contributions, research, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and general ledger. With the advent of the computer, their methods gradually changed and improved in efficiency until several times the volume of work could be handled by two less people.
At 141 E. 44th St., the files were kept in a few drawers of a cabinet in the stenographic department, with one clerk assigned part-time to keep them up to date. There was a folder for every registered group in the U.S. and Canada, and folders for every other country were A.A. was found. There were folders for all the problems and all the subjects dealt with in correspondence. As the Fellowship grew, the pieces of paper became a tidal wave that demanded constantly more room and more woman—hours to cope with it. The files were also the heart of the office, because they contained the accumulated A.A. experience to be drawn on for sharing with those who wrote in for help. After the move to 468 Park Ave., South, Wilma Joseph was detached from the Stenographic Department, along with her row of file cabinets, and given space of her own along with independent responsibility as supervisor of the Files Department. Not long afterward, the standard steel file cabinets with drawers were replaced with several tall rows of open file shelves. Drawers were eliminated and file folders were removed and inserted horizontally—with a huge increase in file capacity and a huge saving in space. As time went by, the number of employees in files grew to four, and in 1984, a quantum leap in efficiency was initiated with the introduction of a microfiche system. Although it would take several years to photograph the hundreds of thousands of letters and documents onto the 4×6″ masters of film, each holding 98 images, it was now possible to reduce the contents of three open file shelves to less than two inches of film. And full-size duplicate prints could be made simply, on order.
As the staff poured out over 20,000 letters a year, they had always dictated them into machines (and still do), which were transcribed in a stenographic pool. The pool system lasted until the offices were expanded and refurbished in 1980-81. At that time, the Stenographic Department, under manager Elizabeth Garcia, was reorganized to provide for an assigned stenographer—in effect, a permanent assistant—for each staff member, with a back-up of additional stenographers, typists and clerks. As dramatic improvements in typewriters were made, new machines were provided for maximum efficiency. The large output of letters and other typing justified the addition of memory typewriters in the early ’70’s, and a complete word-processing system in 1983.
In 1974, Staff member Valerie S. resigned to go into religious work, and Susan C. (later Susan D. and still later Susan U.) was hired to take her place. The same year, Wilbur S., who had served A.A. as its outside auditor of record and its financial advisor since the very beginning, retired because of ill health. Fortunately, a former associate in his firm, Owen J.. Flanagan, who was equally familiar with A.A., was able to step in and take over. At the time, he was a member of Hauser, O’Connor & Highland, C.P.A. ‘s, but later became independent.
Until 1975, a staff member was assigned to serve as Secretary of the A.A. World Services Board on a rotating basis. Besides preparing the agenda for the monthly meeting, taking notes at the meeting and writing and distributing the minutes afterward, the Secretary was the focal point for requests from other organizations for permission to use or adapt A.A.’s Twelve Steps, requests to publish A.A. literature in other languages, requests to reprint other copyrighted material in articles or books, and a myriad of other Board business. Each new Secretary learned “on the job”, did things a bit differently, and sometimes used different file systems for Board records. Even worse, she often lacked knowledge and experience that would enable her to screen requests and prepare them for Board action without re-inventing the wheel. Therefore, in 1977, Madeline Whitlock (later Madeline Jordan) was made permanent Secretary of the AAWS Board. As she grew in experience and competency, the Board authorized her to correspond as necessary with the petitioners to develop additional information and obtain agreement with all requirements before taking the Board’s time.
Madeline had been widowed when her three children were young, so she had re-entered the workplace to support them. A stunningly pretty woman with a head-turning figure, she also possessed superb secretarial skills. Employed in 1968 at G.S.O. as Supervisor of the Steno/Clerical Department, she soon discovered she disliked being the boss. She served variously as recording secretary of the Conference and of Regional Forums, as well as AAWS, but her main job was secretary to general managers Bob H. and Bob P. After Madeline assumed full responsibility for the secretariat of the AAWS Board, Bob P. opted to join the rest of the staff in using a dictating machine for his considerable correspondence.
Ann M., after a record 27 years of service on the A.A. staff, retired in 1975, and Sarah P. was hired to fill the vacancy. The following January, Bob H. went on reduced time (four days a week) but remained Chairman of General Services. Niles P., Assistant General Manager, resigned and was not replaced. (“Beloved Niles,” as he was nicknamed, had a keen eye for the talent and temperament needed in G.S.O. staff members, and had recruited several of them.
A great traveler, he was well-known in A.A. abroad, where he had helped service get started in several countries. He was a living leprechaun and always a free spirit, and now he set out by van to visit A.A. friends all over the U.S. and to adventure as a hotel cook in Florida and a croupier at a Nevada casino. After two years, he returned to New York to work as a contract writer for G.S.O. on the biography of Dr. Bob. He had just completed this job when, after a courageous battle, he died of cancer in 1980.) At the end of 1976, Midge M. retired and was replaced as Administrative Assistant by Frank M. (See below, “Archives”) The G.S.O. open house that fall drew the largest crowd ever, about 500; but four years later, 750 came
Another veteran staff member, Waneta N., retired in 1977, and the vacancy was filled by Vincina “Vinnie” M. And at the end of the year, Bob H. retired from G.S.O., with Bob P. assuming his title of chairman of General Services. Bob H.’s departing gift from the Conference was especially appropriate: a whimsical bronze statue of Don Quixote, spear in hand, mounted on a spavined nag. Not only did Bob H. resemble Don Quixote physically, but his remarkable 24 years of service to Alcoholics Anonymous had been a “quest for the farthest star.”
New York City underwent a severe financial crisis in the mid¬1970’s. Fiscal mismanagement had brought the metropolis to the brink of bankruptcy. The infrastructure had deteriorated, there was rumor that essential fire, police and sanitation services might be curtailed, and a mood of pessimism prevailed. The A.A. World Services Board of Directors deemed it prudent to authorize a study of the feasibility of moving the General Service Office to another location.
The Fantus Company, consultants in corporate relocation, was hired to conduct the study. They were given four arbitrarily chosen, hypothetical places for the purpose of investigating costs: Chicago, Kansas City, Tulsa and Denver. (Other East Coast, Pacific Coast or Canadian areas were ruled out as not offering the possible advantages of a more central location.) Fantus made a detailed report in early 1977 which showed that substantial savings would result in the long run from placing G.S.O. in a central location. Interestingly, however, the cost of alternate office space was not a significant factor, due to the relatively low rent of the 468 quarters. Offsetting the savings was the large expense of moving the office and the key personnel, and severance provisions which would have to be made for those unable or unwilling to make the move, or those fired and left behind. These expenses would take between five and eight years to recoup.
The most convincing consideration was the realization that the greatest asset of G.S.O. was the accumulated and combined experience of the staff members, reflecting the experience of Alcoholics Anonymous passed along from person to person. And many of the staff members declined to leave New York, so their experience would be completely lost. The Grapevine said that the creative environment of New York and the proximity of its graphic production services were essential to its operation. New York is the center of the publishing world, declared the Grapevine Board, and we would be opposed to any move. Also, plaintive objections were heard from overseas A.A. members. They looked forward to visiting G.S.O. when they came to New York—but their trips, they said, would never take them to Kansas City or Denver.
After all factors were weighed, The AAWS Board recommended to the General Service Board that “it would not be in the best interests of the Fellowship to move G.S.O. at this time.” The Trustees agreed and so did the 1977 General Service Conference. A couple of Delegates, however, felt that not enough consideration had been given to this action (at least, not by them) and so the matter was placed on the agenda of the 1978 Conference. After Delegates in the minority had made presentations of their views, the Conference reaffirmed the 1977 action.
On an A.A. trip to San Francisco in 1977, Cora Louise B. had met Lois F. a teacher who was active in A.A. service in the Northern Coastal Area. She recommended her as a promising candidate for a staff member, so the General Manager interviewed her on his next trip to California and she was invited to New York. She became a staff member in January 1978. Mary Ellen U., who had married and become Mary Ellen W., left G.S.O. in 1978 to join her husband in retirement. Helen T. was hired to fill the opening. When Cora Louise B. retired a year later, two new staff members joined the office: Lyla B., then Alternate Delegate from Alaska; and Curtis M., another teacher who had served at the New York Intergroup. Bill W., in 1962, wrote in Concept XI his opinion that men staff members could not “possibly relate themselves so uniquely and so effectively to our Fellowship as women.” But in 1980 this chauvinistic attitude was no longer acceptable, and discrimination on the basis of sex was illegal. So Curtis broke the gender barrier as the first male staff member at G.S.O.
In. 1980, then, the A.A. administrative and staff personnel were: Bob P., general manager; Frank M., Administrative Assistant; Lyla B., Susan D., Lois F., Beth K., Betty L., Phyllis M., Vinnie M., Curtis M., Sarah P., June R. and Helen T.
After the Delegates had visited the office as part of the 1979 Conference week, the made a spontaneous and exuberant recommendation from the floor that “when G.S.O. and Grapevine offices are expanded, the offices be modernized and the appearance of the reception area and office as a whole be vastly improved.”
With this carte blanche, the General Service Board authorized AAWS to sign a new ten year lease on 25% more space—an additional floor—at 468 and 470 Park Ave., So., at very favorable terms since the New York real estate market was in a temporary down-turn. The firm of Sherburne Associates was engaged for the internal architectural work, with Larry O’Neill the resident architect. The first step was to interview every manager with a view to projecting their space needs for the next decade, given a normal growth rate for the Fellowship. Then the work flow between departments was studied. The resulting plan was for the A.A. staff and supporting steno/clerical services to move from the sixth to the eighth floor, where a large and beautifully appointed reception area was provided along with an employees’ lounge and staff lounge. Access was cut through on the same floor into the 470 building to be occupied by the nonalcoholic administrative people in offices fronting on Park Ave., the bulk of the floor accommodating the accounting, data processing, records, files and inventory control departments. The computer was housed in a separate, climate-controlled room. The sixth floor on the 468 side was devoted entirely to the shipping & receiving department and the mail department, plus a storage room. The Archives moved into much larger quarters on the fifth floor, which also held spacious and handsomely furnished conference room to be used for board meetings, staff meetings, committee meetings, and sometimes for employee meetings and parties. The Grapevine offices occupied the remainder of the fifth floor.
G.S.O. had to keep operating throughout the expansion, reconstruction and renovation, making it a logistical nightmare. Delays were encountered in obtaining the 470 space, and when the estimates for work came in over budget, changes had to be made in the specifications and design. Demolition of the old partitions commenced in May 1981, and work continued over the next year. The end result, however, fulfilled the most sanguine expectations of the Conference.
The office sustained three losses in 1983. Nell Wing retired January 1 after 35 years’ extraordinary service. June R. died May 4. The first black staff member, June was a devoted worker with sly and hilarious sense of humor. Her imitation of black patois and her gift for mimicry lightened up staff meetings for years. After serving as secretary of the Fifth World Service Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in October 1978, June had a heart operation from which she never fully recovered. And September 1, Beth K., the senior staff member with 24 years behind her, called it a day. She continued to be on call, often coming in for half a day per week to handle a backlog of correspondence.
At the end of 1983, Eileen G., a diminutive, dynamic young woman with an accent reminiscent of her native England, joined the staff. Soon afterward, Vicente H. was brought from Los Angeles to handle services to Spanish-speaking A.A. community, as was mentioned earlier. The final new staff member to round out the roster as it existed in 1985 was Cheryl Ann B., from Florida, who was hired in mid-’84.
Following the example set by his predecessor, Bob P. had informed the General Service Board in July 1983 that he intended to retire in February 1987 upon reaching 70. As he had managed G.S.O. for eight years without an assistant, he was beginning to feel the strain, and requested the Board to select a replacement as soon as convenient, to provide a maximum overlap. John B. was chosen (See Chap. 2) and began work at G.S.O. May 1, 1984. After a three-months’ orientation period, he took over as General Manager August 1, with Bob retaining overall responsibility as Chairman of General Services. Immediately following the 50th Anniversary International Convention in July 1985, of which he was Chairman (See Chap. 22), Bob relinquished all administrative and managerial responsibility to John, remaining on as Senior Advisor until his scheduled retirement 19 months later.
During Bob’s slightly more than a decade in the general manager’s chair, Alcoholics Anonymous grew phenomenally. The number of regular groups in U.S./Canada increased from 16,875 to 38,285, and all aspects of G.S.O. operations had increased accordingly. Gross sales of literature had skyrocketed from $1,346,800 to $7,251,200; and contributions from $749,500 to $2,378,800. The number of Big Books distributed annually had soared from 137,500 to 696,300; and pamphlets from 3,846,000 to 6,860,000.
During the decade, G.S.O.’s operating budget also increased dramatically, from $1,360,000 to $5,626,000 – but more than half of that was due to inflation. Bob was proud of the fact that the number of employees at G.S.O. had increased only from 72 in 1975 to 99 in 1985. To accomplish this, he had overseen a revolution in office procedures (as described earlier in this chapter) and the introduction of modern business technology: computer, assembly-line, microfiche, word-processing and many other innovations.
“As a management philosophy,” Bob said, “I believe in maximum delegation. I try to create a spirit and an environment which will every person to give his best.” Delegates remember him for his apparent patience and serenity while presiding at difficult and contentious Conference sessions. But he will perhaps be most remembered for taking G.S.O. to the Fellowship. He did much to eliminate the feeling of “them and us” that had prevailed before, as he traveled extensively and tirelessly to A.A. events. He also took A.A. abroad, establishing lines of communication with the Fellowship in. other countries. He once estimated that up to a quarter of his correspondence was devoted to overseas matters.
The A A Archives
As we saw above (pp. XX-XX), the beginnings of the A.A Archives go back to the time the little Editorial & Research Committee was formed and moved to space adjoining the Shipping Department at 305 East 45th. And all the old files and records from the Headquarters office had been moved to the same location in boxes stacked to the ceiling. In Bill’s plan, one project of the committee was to be the writing of a history of A.A. Although this was dropped when Bill was almost incapacitated by depression, Bill admonished Nell Wing, “Now, Nell, give what time you can to getting all this stuff in order. It’s got to be preserved.” (Actually Bill had asked Lois W. to preserve records as far back as the late 1930’s, and she had filed away letters, photos, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, etc.—copies of which she later shared with the G.S.O. Archives.)
Bill had some underlying reasons for his intense interest in archival matters, beyond that expressed in A.A. Comes of Age namely, so that “the basic facts of A. A. ‘s growth and development never can become distorted.” By 1955, the facts were already being distorted by Clarence S. and other oldtimers who were attempting to undermine Bill’s place in A.A.’s history. So Bill wanted the records available. Also Bill was visionary; he saw the sweep and scope of the Fellowship he had helped found and foresaw its significance as a social movement to be studied by future historians.
Today there is still another reason for the importance of the Archives to every member of Alcoholics Anonymous. As A.A. grows only by a sober A.A. member “passing it on” to a still-suffering alcoholic, every A.A. alive traces his sobriety back through his sponsor and his sponsor’s sponsor and so on back to the founders themselves! Thus the Archives acquire a personal significance to each individual: without the beginnings which he sees preserved and symbolized there, he would not be alive. No wonder many visitors tear up or have difficulty speaking as they gaze around the exhibits in the Archives.
Nell started thus in the late ’50’s and continued through the’60’s: “When I sent out Bill’s letters to Tom S. [in Florida) or whoever, I remember writing notes on them, ‘Save the history records in your area because we’re going to put these together in an Archive.’ I did a lot of that. In our big room over at 305, I was not only weeding out group files and the old office files, but I also had the Conference reports all together, I had the Exchange Bulletins all together, I had the Grapevines all together, I had Bill’s records all together, and many other categories. I was eager to get on with it, but I had so many other things to do.” This was corrected in 1968. Bob H., the new general manager, assigned Nell to the Archives full, time except for her duties as secretary to Bill, who was coming to the office less frequently now.
With the move to Park Avenue, South, Nell and the archival records shared a big room with Bill. After Bill died, the room was partitioned into two offices, and Nell was moved across the hall. She reported to Midge H., then administrative assistant to the general manager. In 1973, the creation of an Archives as part of G.S.O., was officially announced, and it was given its own space on the newly-leased eighth floor. A large sunny room with pale blue walls and pumpkin-colored chairs was flanked by a small, well-secured storage room. A professional librarian, Edith Klein, was employed as a consultant to help Nell organize the material.
To make policy decisions a Trustees’ Archives Committee was formed consisting of General Service Trustee George C., Chairman; Rev. Lee A. Belford of New York University; Class A. Trustee Milton Maxwell; and Midge H., Secretary. The committee saw the function of the Archives as insuring that “myth does not predominate over fact” in A.A. history. They immediately set to work to classify the historical material and to develop guidelines governing the right of access. They were also concerned with the preservation of the truly priceless mementos and authorized microfilming such material as original correspondence between Bill and Dr. Bob. States, provinces and areas were encouraged to write their own histories and supply copies of historical documents to the Archives at G.S.O.
A committee-at-large was created to help assemble this kind of material from the Fellowship. It was headed by past-Trustee Tom S., who, from the beginning, had urged Bill to take this step. Tom wrote 175 old-timers asking them to send in their recollections.
“Official” opening ceremonies were held immediately following the meeting of the General Service Board on November 3, 1975. Chairman George C. presided and Lois W., Dr. Jack Norris, and Tom S. all made brief remarks. “I’ll never again hear the words ‘labor of love’ without thinking of Nell,” said George. Lois and Tom did the honors in cutting a blue ribbon to symbolize the availability of the Archives. The ceremony was photographed, but after the food and coffee were served, the assembled group had their big laugh of the day. It was suddenly realized that no one had taped for posterity the remarks at the ceremonial opening of the Archives!
To provide Nell with much-needed help and back-up, Harriet C. was employed beginning in 1975. Harriet was an elderly lady from a good social background who ostensibly worked on a part-time basis to avoid exceeding her earnings limit under Social Security, but as she lived alone and became absolutely devoted to the Archives and to Nell, she could be found there most of the time. This team was augmented and later succeeded by a succession of archival clerks over the years. When Midge M. retired in 1976, Frank M. was employed to replace her as Administrative Assistant, with responsibility for the A.A. Directories and the Archives, among other duties. Frank, a tall, rather intense A.A. from New York, with a background in pharmaceutical advertising, took a special interest in the Archives. Nell Wing retired at the end of 1982, after 35 years of service to Bill, to G.S.O. and to A.A.—a rather long tenure for someone who came there only temporarily!—and was kept on as a consultant to the Trustees’ Archives Committee until after 1985. Frank M. became Archivist at the beginning of 1983.
On the Archives Committee, George G., who had played such a key role in establishing the Archives, was succeeded as Chairman in 1977 by Milton Maxwell; but by invitation he remained on the committee until his rotation from the Board, when he became a kind of consultant-emeritus. During that year, a three—category system of classification of material was defined and implemented. Upon Dr. Maxwell’s election to Chairman of the General Service Board the following year, he appointed Southwestern Regional Trustee Mike R. to take his place as Archives Chairman. Mike felt that since relatively few members of the Fellowship would ever visit the Archives, a way should be found to take the priceless artifacts in the Archives out to them. And so he pushed for a filmstrip to be made, which was completed in 1979 with the title, Markings on a Journey, and presented to the 1980 Conference which gave it enthusiastic approval. It was presented to the Fellowship at large at the International Convention in New Orleans and has been in general use ever since. Also under Mike R.’s leadership, a program of preservation was begun, in which the one-of-a-kind documents were repaired, restored, treated chemically to prevent further deterioration and encased in transparent mylar for permanent protection and availability. Other Trustees serving as Archives Chairmen through 1985 have been Fernand I., Al H. and Garrett T.
At the 1980 International Convention, an Archives Workshop was part of the program for the first time. It was very well attended, and four panelists from other parts of the country (Washington State, Southern California, South Florida and Western Massachusetts) shared their experience in setting up local archives. As a result of the workshop, an archival newsletter entitled “Markings” was inaugurated in 1981 and has been published at irregular intervals since then. By 1985, almost every state, province and area—and many countries overseas—had some kind of archives. A huge Archives Workshop held as part of the Montreal Convention drew an overflow crowd. Chaired by Garrett T., it featured talks by Ruth Hock, Dr. Jack Norris and Mike R. with marvelous and moving participation by oldtimers in the audience.