[Editor Note: These AA Grapevine articles were written about the “Forgotten Fantastic Communicator,” who is described most recently on this web site. As thousands of AAs owe their sobriety to her, logic and compassion seem together to dictate that she deserves to be remembered with honor for giving her life to the fellowship so that others might live. They date from 1945 through 1976. She died in 1953. Note that most of the articles have been shortened to include paragraphs that apply just to Bobbie. When blocks have been removed, a “(continued)” appears.
From the July 1945 magazine.
Two members from a California group came all the way from the coast in a day coach. Originally scheduled for different trains, the station master, on hearing where they were going and why, moved them on to the same train at a great deal of trouble to himself.
The manager of The Carter took particular pains to mention to Dick S., chairman of the Tenth Anniversary Committee, that he considered the manner in which the anniversary party was conducted and the behavior of the guests the best of all “conventions” in his memory.
All A.A.s and their friends were welcomed to Cleveland at the Music Hall by Doctor T., a prominent member from the Lee Road Thursday Group. Dick S. introduced Dr. Bob and Bill. Jack D. was toastmaster at the banquet.
Over 250 women A.A.s and their friends attended the tea on Saturday afternoon at The Carter, where they met Anne S., Lois W., and Bobbie B., secretary of The Central Office in New York.
From the September 1945 magazine.
A.A.’s Country-wide News Circuit
A new group is under way in Silver Spring, Md., offshoot of Washington, D. C.; Mansfield, Ohio’s original group has reached the point where they’ve organized group No. 2, so that the personal interest element can be maintained effectively; and Jacksonville, Fla., A.A.s, their aid enlisted by the Florida parole commission and prison officials, have gotten a group going in the state prison at Raiford. The Jackson-villians in turn will be aided by traveling members–those with both tires and gas–from groups in Miami, West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Pensacola, Sarasota and Tampa. . . . Lodi, Calif., with 17 members, has celebrated its first anniversary. . . . So has the Bronx, N. Y., Group. More than 300 attended the Bronx anniversary dinner. Bobbie B., national secretary, representatives of the medical profession, an editor, a publisher and a clergyman were among the speakers.
From the August 1947 magazine.
Now Worldwide in Scope
(Third and concluding article in a series recording the early history of A.A. In later issues, the series will be resumed with articles recording recent A.A. development and growth.)
How we ever got the book and our office through that summer of 1939 I shall never quite know. Had it not been for a truly sacrificial act on the part of Bert T., an early New York A.A., I’m sure we couldn’t have survived. Bert loaned the defunct Works Publishing Co. $1,000, obtained by signing a note secured by his own business. This act of faith was followed by two more pieces of good fortune which barely got us through the year. In the fall of 1939 Liberty Magazine published a piece about us. This produced a flood of inquiries and some orders for the A.A. book. Those few book receipts kept our little Central Office going. Then came a burst of articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This started a prodigious growth of A.A. out there and created a little more demand for the A.A. book.
About 1942 it became evident that the Foundation ought to complete its ownership of Works Publishing by calling in the stock of the outstanding cash subscribers of Works. Several thousand dollars were required to do this and, of course, group funds could not be used for this purpose.
So the trustees, spearheaded this time by our old friend “Chip,” turned again to Mr. Rockefeller and his “dinner list.” These original donors most gladly made the Foundation the necessary loan which enabled the Foundation to acquire full ownership of our A.A. book (Works Publishing, Inc.). Meanwhile, Works Publishing, being now partly relieved of supporting the Central Office, had been able to pay its own creditors in full. Later on, when out of A.A. book income the trustees offered to pay off the Foundation debt, several of the lenders would take only a part payment–some none at all. At last we were in the clear. This event marked the end of our financial troubles.
Now Worldwide in Scope
The last few years of A.A. have been phenomenal. Nearly everybody in America knows about A.A. Seemingly, the rest of the globe will soon learn as A.A. travelers go abroad and our literature is translated into other tongues. Today our General Service Headquarters has a staff of twelve. Because of our prodigious growth and the continuous entry of A.A. into more foreign countries, the headquarters will presently need twenty. Popularly known to thousands as “Bobbie,” our A.A. General Secretary now serves world A.A. On the Board of The Alcoholic Foundation three of the early trustees, whose contribution to A.A. is incalculable, remain. New faces are seen at the quarterly meetings, each as anxious to serve as the original group. The A.A. Grapevine, our national monthly periodical which made its appearance three years ago, is now taking its place among our General Headquarters’ Services and is almost paying its own way already. Out of its Works Publishing income, the Foundation has accumulated a prudent financial reserve for the future. That reserve now stands at more than a full year’s Headquarters expense, which still remains not much above the very low figure of $1 per A.A. per year. Two years ago the trustees set aside, out of A.A. book funds, a sum which enabled my wife and me to pay off the mortgage on our home and make some needed improvements. The Foundation also granted Dr. Bob and me each a royalty of 10% on the book Alcoholics Anonymous, our only income from A.A. sources. We are both very comfortable and deeply grateful.
This account of the stewardship of Alcoholics Anonymous during its infancy brings us to the present–the year 1947–with continued A.A. growth and A.A. service the future’s promise.
— Bill W.
From the April 1948 magazine.
P. O. Box 459 Is International Hub
P.O. Box 459, just an ordinary looking Post Office box number, but into it daily flow letters postmarked all over the world. It is internationally famous because it is the address of Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Headquarters, New York City.
It wasn’t long before the business of A.A. drove other business out of the little office in Newark. It grew to such proportions that larger quarters were necessary. It was moved into offices on Vesey Street, in downtown New York.
The Vesey Street office was a luxury. It was really one large room but a slight partition made it seem like two rooms. Those who were in that office downtown say that in those days a traveler took his life in his hands to set foot in the door. He was immediately put to work! No visitor ever left the office without a stack of mail to be delivered to the post office!
About six years ago, Bobbie B. became general secretary, replacing Ruth H. At that time there were 100 groups in the whole of A.A. Now there are more than 2,000. Naturally the whole operation of the General Service Headquarters has increased tremendously.
In 1944 another move was necessary. The offices were moved into the present quarters at 415 Lexington Avenue, with five employees. Since then the staff has grown to 16 full time employees in the General Service Headquarters, four of whom are members of A.A.
Into the office come approximately 200 travelers each month. Many of these travelers, who through the years have built up a friendship by mail with Bobbie B. and Charlotte L. (who came to the General Service Headquarters as associate secretary, in 1946) meet for the first time these A.A. workers who before have been only signatures on letters and bulletins.
Travelers ask all sorts of questions–and get the answers–or sound suggestions based on experience of how to proceed. And much experience has piled up since the book Alcoholics Anonymous was written in 1939. At that time there were 100 members; now there are approximately 60,000.
From the June 1951 magazine.
QUIETLY, effectively, with neither fuss nor fanfare–and therefore in the best traditions of AA–history was impressively written in New York City during the four days of the First General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous, April 19 through 22, 1951.
It was also unanimously resolved that the Conference go on formal record, by letter, as declaring its deep appreciation to Bobbie B. for her years of faithful service as Secretary of AA General Headquarters and the General Service Office. A similar expression was voted to Trustee Emeritus Willard Richardson for his intense devotion to AA and his untiring aid in forwarding its interests.
From the April 1953 magazine.
In Memory of Bobbie
MARGARET B., affectionately known throughout AA as “Bobbie,” passed away in her sleep on February 17th of an unforeseen heart ailment.
She had headed our General Service Office at New York in all the years of AA’s adolescence–that exciting but fearsome period when no one could tell for sure whether our fledgling society would survive or not.
Across her desk came thousands of pleas for help from individuals and hundreds from growing but anxious groups who wanted to be advised of the latest AA experience in meeting the problems that assailed them. It was out of this experience that AA’s tradition was formed. And upon our tradition her devoted labor set a mark which will endure so long as God will have our society last.
Her pioneering work has proved an inspiring precedent for every Intergroup and Foundation secretary, and her departure creates in the heart of each of her friends a void which can only be filled by the memory of what she left us and the assurance that her destiny is happy and secure.
— Bill W.
From the June 1955 magazine.
How A.A.’S World Services Grew
Part Two of a three-part series on AA history by our co-founder, Bill.
WE had started the year 1941 with 2,000 members, but we finished with 8,000. This was the measure of the great impact of the Saturday Evening Post piece. But this was only the beginning of uncounted thousands of pleas for help from individuals and from growing groups all over the world that have continued to flow into General Service Headquarters to this day.
Leaving the imprint of her devotion upon our society for all time, Ruth had left, in 1941, to be married. She was followed at the office by Bobbie B., one whose immense industry was to acquaint her with uncounted thousands of AAs during the next ten years. Hers was to be a signal service in the exciting time of AA’s adolescence, when no one could be sure whether we could function or even hang together at all.
The expansion of Alcoholics Anonymous soon became nothing less than staggering. Reaching out into Canada, the U. S. possessions and numbers of foreign lands, we got under full swing. This foreign development brought us a whole new set of dilemmas to solve. Each new beachhead had to go through its flying blind and its pioneering period just as we had done in the United States. We ran into language barriers, so more and more of our literature was translated into other tongues.
— Bill W.
From the February 1958 magazine.
ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY AA members known as Internationalists are now registered with General Service Headquarters. They have their own Directory and their letters come in to GSH from every part of the globe. They are men at sea. They write from ships at sea or from ports all the way from Bangor to Bangkok. Captain Jack, the first of this little band of wandering AAs, describes how the name Internationalists came into use: “It started in the Far East and at first was known as the ‘Far East Internationalists,’ later shortened at the suggestion of one of the members. The word is commonly used in foreign countries, applied to a person having something in common with two or more countries. Surely a seaman has those qualifications.” Here is their story, told through letters and early “Internationalist Bulletins.”. . .
Hi there Sailors:
I think most of you men know how this letter-writing idea started more than four years ago. Following the close of the last war I wrote a letter to the Foundation to find out what AA was all about. I needed it badly. I received an answer; other letters followed and after a few months in AA I sobered up. There were no opportunities for too many meetings ashore, so a substitute for meetings had to be found.
Suggestions came from Charlotte L. and Bobbie B., then of the Foundation, that letters might help take the place of meetings, and through their kindness, contacts were made. Along the coast, this was not difficult, for as we all know, every large seaport has its groups and clubhouses; then the final test came after about fifteen months of sobriety. The company gave me a skipper’s job on a tanker bound to the Far East for a year’s voyage. I called at the Foundation office, bought several “Big Books” and about a hundred pamphlets. Bill happened to be in the office that day. I could see a little doubt in his mind, wondering if that sailor could make it.
I wondered a little myself. I started out for San Francisco and about two weeks later sailed for Shanghai and ports in the Far East, a voyage which lasted fourteen months, with only one AA meeting in Melbourne, Australia.
As I look back I often wonder what happened to those books and literature. One book was left in Shanghai, another in Bombay, a third with a doctor in Singapore, literature with a missionary at Manila, some in Borneo and Sumatra. There were no AAs there at the time. I had to talk with somebody so I called on doctors and anybody who would listen to me. Then came the meeting in Melbourne, after being away for nine months.
During this time, letters from the Foundation and from a few friends were my only contact with AA. Then came contacts and an occasional inquiry from a foreign country. I started writing more letters and found that by doing so, it helped me a great deal–I hoped it might help somebody else.
Without the gals at General Service and the Grapevine too, this group would never have carried on. I am very grateful that there are now so many of us.–Jack S.
From the April 1958 magazine.
Guardian of AA
Our General Service Conference
EVERY AA WANTS TO MAKE SURE of his survival from alcoholism, and his own spiritual well-being afterward. This is just as it should be. He also wants to do what he can for the survival and well-being of his fellow alcoholics. Therefore he is bound to have a vital interest in the permanence and well-being of AA itself.
In his AA group, every good member feels deeply about this. He knows, once the miracle of sobriety has been received, that Providence expects all of us to work and to grow–to do our part in maintaining our blessings in full force. A perpetual miracle–with no effort or responsibility on our part–simply isn’t in the cards. We all understand that the price of both personal and group survival is willingness and sacrifice, vigilance and work.
To this body of trustees–alcoholic and non-alcoholic–must go most of the credit for making our world Headquarters what it now is. I am very glad that this issue of the Grapevine carries the pictures of two of our distinguished non-alcoholic Chairmen of the Board, men whose steadfastness saw us through a long season of labor and peril. In the faces of Leonard Harrison and Bernard Smith you can see what these men are. And in our new history book, AA Comes of Age, you can read what they and others like them did for us in our pioneering time as the moving drama of AA unfolded.
During the year 1948 we workers at AA’s Headquarters got a terrific jolt. Dr. Bob was stricken with a consuming and slowly fatal malady. This created a severe crisis in our affairs because it made us face up to the fact that the old time parents of our society weren’t going to last forever.
We were filled with foreboding as we realized how insecure were the existing links between our Headquarters and the vast sprawling fellowship that it served. There was, of course, our small Board of Trustees. But not one AA in a thousand could name half of them. At the Headquarters office, there were Bobbie, Ann and Charlotte. There was Dr. Bob and myself. We few were just about the only links to worldwide AA!
Meanwhile thousands of our members went serenely about their business. They knew little or nothing about AA’s over-all problems. They vaguely supposed that God, with maybe a slight assist from Dr. Bob and me, would go right on handling them. Thus they were completely ignorant of the actual state of our affairs, and of the awful potential there was for an ultimate collapse.
It was a racking dilemma. Somehow AA as such–AA as a whole–would have to take over the full responsibility.
For these all-compelling reasons, my friends, the future belongs to you. Embrace these new responsibilities eagerly, fear naught, and the Grace of God will surely be yours.
— Bill W.
From the November 1958 magazine.
The Simple Answer
LET’S FACE IT. Let’s lay all fifty-two cards on the table face up. Something wrong? Oh yea, there’s always something wrong with the guy whose imagination never sleeps. So to be sure, let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. Let’s face it.
Like most things in AA the answer is simple when you take an honest look. Take for example the problem of refusing an offered drink at a party. My answer is simple “I’m sorry, I can’t drink.”
The answer to the why of the money problem is the same as that of being overdrawn at the bank, a problem with which most of us are familiar. We either didn’t put in enough or we took out too much. Since this condition has existed since the overworked and underpaid days of Ruth and Bobbie at GSH, it certainly shouldn’t be new to a few of us.
This is not the problem of the new person, nor as suggested, the sole problem of the old timer. As I understand things AA is a proving grounds where people learn to stand on their own feet and carry their own weight.
This morning when I was shaving I glanced in the mirror and remarked, “Eph, you’re a good kid–The only thing you have to do is prove it.” And in the years to come, when I have proven it, I think I will be given a better understanding of what I really mean when I say, “Thanks, God, for another day.”
From the October 1961 magazine.
The key to the elusive grace called humility
AT the age of twenty I sat at a window in a famous English university and gazed with rapture at the English countryside stretching beyond the river to the shade of the forest. Shortly I would return to New Zealand to apply my knowledge to business. The future looked good. I had been most successful in all college activities and the triumphs of the future would be great indeed.
Was there no source of help? I believe God took this to be a sincere prayer and He acted at once as He always does. There came to my hands a copy of an article, “Maybe You Can Do It Too.” Here was an explanation of how and why I drank, felt and behaved. Above all, it offered hope; maybe even I could recover. I wrote to GSO in New York. Back came a book and a letter from Bobbie. This was followed by others. Bobbie was a great sponsor. She never let up; the letters came and came. She knew how I felt, what I was thinking, for she was an alcoholic too. And the program worked for me–as it always does for those “who thoroughly follow our path.” And it has continued to work for fifteen years. The desire to drink was taken from me a few months after my coming to AA. But I have had a lot of bother trying to attain that emotional sobriety that Bill writes about. However, I can see clearly what I want to do and become, and AA has taught me the methods to use.
These feelings and changes in attitude are hard to express. Gratitude in action? Perhaps that’s it. For I believe that active gratitude has something of the stuff of that elusive humility. Of course one must think and plan and dream, but the only measure of the validity of these things is action. So I will practice gratitude to those who stood by me for all those horrible years of drinking; to those who gave freely so much valuable advice that was not used for years; and above all to God, the Father of us all, who gave freely of His help as soon as it was asked.
— I. M.
Wellington, New Zealand
From the September 1976 magazine.
How AA Came to New Zealand
The story of one man and a book, and of the impact he made on his homeland
The first copy of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939, Some million and a half books later, in a brand-new third edition, the basic message of the Big Book remains the same. No modern discipline nor ancient esoteric philosophy can claim as many converts to sobriety as can the simple program set forth in the Big Book.
IN FEBRUARY 1976, AA in New Zealand celebrated thirty years of carrying the message, with an anniversary dinner held during the annual convention. One of the guests of honor was Ian, the first AA in New Zealand, who achieved sobriety in 1946 through following suggestions in the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous.
This Ian did, and soon back came a letter from Bobbie of GSO, along with a copy of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. The book came with the compliments of an American businessman, who had spent some years in New Zealand.
In Bobbie‘s letter, she said words to this effect: “We don’t know if this thing will work by mail or not; we see no reason why it shouldn’t. On one of our walls here, we have a map of the world, and a flag is pinned on all the countries where AA is to be found. As far as New Zealand is concerned, you are it. Goodbye and God bless you.” That was in 1946.
Ian used the Big Book as an instruction manual, and tried to do what it said about the Steps. It took him a year to get anywhere near a contented sobriety. His wife had noticed that his drinking was always associated with tension, and so, whenever tension came Ian’s way, he would do two things: take out the book and go through the Steps again to see where he was going wrong, and write to Bobbie and tell her how he felt. Always, the tension vanished. “Even when I popped the letter to Bobbie in the postal box, I felt better.” Her replies would come back, and they were so accurate regarding his problems that for a long time he suspected Heather was writing to Bobbie on the sly.
So he read on, absorbing it all, accepting it all, and trying to do as the book suggested. Then he came to Chapter 7, “Working With Others,” where it says, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.” He read the chapter very carefully and then sought out other alcoholics–which wasn’t very difficult. Some of the practicing alcoholics used to come and stay on the farm with Ian and Heather. They soon found one Big Book was insufficient, so they imported five more. The five prospects would sit down, read, and discuss the Big Book with Ian. Few achieved sobriety.
Small wonder, then, that when Ian resumed his seat after his talk on the great occasion of New Zealand’s thirtieth-anniversary celebration, everyone spontaneously stood, most with tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats, and applauded, for what seemed an eternity, this great old-timer’s endeavors that began thirty years ago.
Wellington, New Zealand