Pioneers of A.A.
“How it finally broke a Southerner’s obstinacy and destined this salesman to start A.A. at Philadelphia.”
Jim was twelfth stepped into the fellowship on January 8, 1938. But he had a slip in June of that year. His last drink was June 16, 1938.
He was described as having red hair, and being rather slim, at least in his last years.
He spent his early life in Baltimore where his father was a physician and a grain merchant. They lived in very prosperous circumstances, and while both parents drank, sometimes too much, they were not alcoholics. Home life was reasonably harmonious. There were four children, and both of his brothers later became alcoholics. One of his brothers died from alcoholism. His sister never took a drink in her life.
He attended public schools until thirteen, then was sent to an Episcopal school for boys in Virginia where he stayed four years. But there he developed a real aversion to all churches and established religions. At school they had Bible readings before each meal and church services four times on Sunday.
At seventeen he entered the university to please his father who wanted him to study medicine as he had. There he took his first drink and he always remembered it. He blacked out the first time he drank.
In the spring of 1917, because he feared he would be kicked out of school, he joined the Army. Due to his OTC training, he entered with the rank of sergeant, only later to come out a private.
During his military service he became a periodic alcoholic. On November 5, 1918, the troops heard a false report that the Armistice would be signed the next day, so Jim had a couple of cognacs to celebrate, then hopped a truck and went AWOL. His next thing he knew he was in Bar le Duc, many miles from base. It was November 11. The bells were ringing, and whistles blowing, for the real Armistice.
Back in the States he migrated from job to job, unable to hold any for very long. The boss who fired him from one job was Hank P. (“The Unbeliever” in the 1st edition.) In the eight years before he stopped drinking, he had over forty jobs.
Finally, January 8, 1938, his boyhood friend Fitz M. (“Our Southern Friend”) sent one of his early sponsees, Jackie W., to try to help him. When Jackie got drunk Jim called New York and was told that the two of them should come to New York. Hank, who had fired him eleven years before, offered Jim a job working with him and Bill W. at Honor Dealers. (See bottom of page 149 of the Big Book.) Hank fired him again, at least briefly, when he had his slip in June of that year.
Jim met his wife, Rosa, on a 12th step call. (The only time he ever 12th stepped a woman.) They were married a year later, and reportedly both did much service work in A.A. and were elected to various offices.
On February 13, 1940, with about two years of sobriety, Jim moved to the Philadelphia area and started a group there. He also helped start A.A. in Baltimore.
He wrote a history of A.A. in Philadelphia, and also wrote a history called “The Evolution of Alcoholics Anonymous.” It contains some factual errors and his memory differed in spots from some of the other early A.A. members and of Bill W., but it is the first historical piece written about A.A.
Jim is usually given credit for the third tradition, that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. He also is credited with the use of “God as we understood Him” in the Steps. (Jim, an agnostic, was militantly opposed to too much talk of God in the Big Book, but he said later that his agnostic stance had mellowed over the years.)
When he updated his story for the May 1968 edition of the A.A. Grapevine, he told how in the early days in New York he started fighting all the things Bill and the others stood for, especially religion, the “God bit.” But he did want to stay sober, and did love the understanding Fellowship. Soon he was number four in seniority in the New York group.
He said he learned later that the New York group had a prayer meeting on what to do with him. The consensus seemed to have been that they hoped he would either leave town or get drunk. He added that his spiritual growth over the past thirty years had been very gradual and steady.
Later he moved to San Diego, CA, where he lived until his death. After breaking his hip in a freak accident from which he never fully recovered, Jim was often in a wheelchair. Following a long illness, he was admitted to the Veterans Administration Medical Center, La Jolla, California, where he started an A.A. meeting which still meets on Thursday nights.
Jim died in the VA hospital on September 8, 1974. He and Fitz M. are buried just a few yards apart on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church at Owensville, MD.
(Special thanks to Ron L. of California for information on Jim’s last days.)