Biography: “Our Southern Friend”
John H. F. (Fitz) M., Cumberstone, Maryland.
(p. 226 in 1st edition, p. 460 in 2nd edition, p. 497 in 3rd edition, and p. 208 in 4th edition. In the first three editions it appeared under the section “They Nearly Lost All.”)
They Lost Nearly All
“Pioneer A.A., minister’s son, and southern farmer, he asked, ‘Who am I to say there is no God?'”
Fitz’ date of sobriety was October 1935. He was Bill’s second or third success at 12th stepping after he returned from Akron in 1935. The first was Hank P. (“The Unbeliever” in the 1st edition), and the second probably William R., “A Business Man’s Recovery” in the 1st edition.)
Fitz has been described as a blue blood from Maryland. Alcoholism may have run in his mother’s side of the family. Fitz was, reportedly, quite handsome, with chiseled features. He had the quiet, easy charm of the landed gentry. Indeed, he was quite the Southern gentleman. Lois W. said Fitz was an impractical, lovable dreamer. His intellectual, scholarly qualities gave him common ground with Bill who – like Fitz – was also a dreamer.
He was the son of an Episcopalian minister. Alcoholism may have run in his mother’s side of the family. They never drank at home, but when Fitz took his first drink when at college, he discovered that it removed his fear and sense of inferiority.
He attempted to enlist during World War I, but could not pass the physical. This added to his sense of inferiority.
He had a good job with a large corporation until the Great Depression. Later he worked at various jobs: traveling salesman, teacher and farmer. But he couldn’t stop drinking. He was drunk when his mother-in-law died, when his own mother died, when his child was born.
His wife had heard of Towns Hospital in New York and urged him to go there. Finally he agreed.
Another patient told him about a group of men who were worse than he was but who didn’t drink any more. This patient had tried the program but had slipped. He knew it was because he hadn’t been honest. He asked Fitz if he believed in God. Fitz did not. Later, in his bed, the thought came: “Can all the worth while people I have known be wrong about God?” He took a look at his own history and suddenly a thought like a Voice came: “Who are you to say there is no God?”
Bill & Lois W. and Fitz M. and his wife became devoted friends, and visited one another often. Fitz frequently came up for the Tuesday night meeting at the Wilson home in Brooklyn. It was while Bill and Lois were visiting Fitz in Maryland in the summer of 1936 that Bill C., committed suicide. (See page 16 of the Big Book.) And Fitz, as well as Hank P. often joined Bill and Lois at Oxford Group house parties before A.A. broke away from the Oxford Group.
During the writing of the Big Book, Fitz insisted that the book should express Christian doctrines and use Biblical terms and expressions. Hank and Jim B. opposed him. The compromise was “God as we understood Him.”
When the group was trying to decide on a name for the book, Fitz, because of his close proximity to Washington, was asked to go to the Library of Congress and find out how many books were called “The Way Out.” His sister, Agnes, came to the their assistance when the printer refused to release the book he was holding – the first printing of Alcoholics Anonymous. Agnes loaned A.A. $1,000, the equivalent of nearly $12,000 today.
Fitz later started A.A. in Washington. Florence R. (“A Feminine Victory” in the 1st edition) joined him in Washington. It was Fitz who was called on to identify her body when she died. He sent one of his early sponsees (who never recovered) to see his old friend Jim B. in Washington (“The Vicious Cycle”) when Jim was just coming off a binge.
In World War II, Fitz at last was able to join the Army, where he was found to be suffering from cancer. He died October 4, 1943, eight years after he stopped drinking. Fitz is buried on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church at Owensville, MD, where his father had once been pastor. He is buried just a few feet from Jim B.