Randy's Letter: Bill and Money

This is a copy of a document that has been forwarded through several mailing lists. I've made small corrections to the grammar, without changing the meaning.

--- Start forwarded message ---

It is well worth reading through this chunk of AA Comes of Age for the remarkable comments at the bottom — don't miss them.

This was fwded from the gso list (to which it was fwded from an AA member), a list with open archives available to the public:


One day at Charlie Towns' hospital, Charlie beckoned me into his office for one of his Dutch-uncle talks. "Look here, Bill," said he, "I've got a hunch that this A.A. business of yours is someday going to fill Madison Square Garden. Now I am not a religious man and you must know that I was mighty skeptical of this business when it first came in here. Silkworth really scared me by his co-operation with you. But that is all changed. I believe in you people. Your methods are going to work." And he said, "Look, Bill, don't you see you're getting the bad end of this deal? You are starving to death, and your wife is working at that store [She worked there until spring 1939]. All around you, these drunks are getting well and making money, but you're giving this work full time, and still you're broke. It isn't fair."

Charlie fished in his desk and came up with an old financial statement. Handing it to me, he continued, "This shows the kind of money this hospital used to make back in the 1930's. Thousands of dollars a month. It should be doing just as well now, and it would — if only you'd help it. So why don't you move your work in here? I'll give you an office, a decent drawing account, and a very healthy slice of the profits. What I propose is perfectly ethical. You can become a lay therapist, and more successful than anybody in the business."

I was bowled over. There were a few twinges of conscience until I saw how really ethical Charlie's proposal was. There was nothing wrong whatever with becoming a lay therapist. I thought of Lois coming home exhausted from the department store each day, only to cook a supper for a houseful of drunks who were not paying board. I thought of the large sum of money I still owed my Wall Street creditors. I thought of some of my alcoholic friends who were making as much money as they ever did. Why shouldn't I do as well as they? Although I asked Charlie for a little time to consider it, my own mind was about made up. Going back to Brooklyn on the subway, I had a flash of seeming divine guidance. It was only a single sentence, but it was most convincing. In fact, it came right out of the Bible. A voice kept saying to me, "The laborer is worthy of his hire." At home [182 Clinton Street, NYC] I found Lois cooking as usual, while three drunks looked hungrily on from the kitchen door. I drew her aside and told her the glorious news. She looked interested, but not as excited as I thought she should be.

It was meeting night. Although few of the alcoholics we boarded seemed to get sober, some others had. With their wives, they crowded into our downstairs parlor. At once I burst into the story of my opportunity. I never shall forget their impassive faces and the steady gazes they focused on me. With waning enthusiasm, my story trailed off to the end. There was a long silence.

Almost timidly, one of my friends began to speak. "We know how hard up you are, Bill," he said. "It bothers us a lot. We've often wondered what we might do about it. But I think I speak for everyone here when I say that what you now propose bothers us an awful lot more." The speaker's voice grew more confident. "Don't you realize," he went on, "that you can never become a professional? As generous as Charlie has been to us, don't you see that we can't tie this thing up with his hospital or any other? You tell us that Charlie's proposal is ethical. Sure, it's ethical. But what we've got won't run on ethics only; it has to be better. Sure, Charlie's idea is good, but it isn't good enough. This is a matter of life and death, Bill, and nothing but the very best will do." My friends looked at me challengingly as their spokesman continued. "Bill, haven't you often said right here in this meeting that sometimes the good is the enemy of the best? Well, this is a plain case of it. You can't do this thing to us."

Thus spoke the group conscience. The group was right and I was wrong; the voice on the subway was not the voice of God. Here was the true voice welling up out of my friends. I listened and — thank God — I obeyed.

-------end quote

This little story is very spiritual. We should adhere to its lesson and distinguish the message from the messenger. There is reason to believe that the end of the story is fabricated and historically false. Bill did not obey.

We know from Chapter 1 in the Big Book that Bill was frequently a lay therapist at the Charles B. Towns Hospital.

We know from the above story that Bill was offered money.

We know from other sources that he campaigned for paid AA missionaries (with himself as the chief missionary).

We know from the first Works Publishing Inc. financial report that Charles B. Towns gave $2,539.
[ Local copy, edited, corrected, and annotated: orange-june40.html ]

We know from Henrietta Seiberling about Bill's "taking the money" for himself privately.
http://www.aapubliccontroversy.com/hen/  (Letter page 4)
[ Local mirror: orange-Henrietta_Seiberling.html ]

$7,989 (more than $100,000 in year 2000 dollars) was collected in advance for printing the book. But when it was to go to the printer in March, 1939, the $2,414.71 needed to pay Cornwall Press was not available, and "all were broke" and "we had no money to pay the printer". Guess where it went!
[ See local edited, annotated, and expanded version: orange-aacoa.html ]

There is a letter in the AAWS archives (earmarked "For eyes only") from Bill to a friend in Texas asking him for money to buy Bill a new car. Bill goes on saying something to the extent "If this damn AA can't pay me well enough I'll have to look for another BUSINESS TO FEED MY NEEDS." Such an attitude speaks for itself.

A well known, trustworthy AA archivist had access many years ago and held this letter in hand, but was unable to obtain a copy. Because of such lack of "hardcopy evidence" I have to omit his name here. It is for the sake of his security. Sorry to say that, but nowadays AAWS is pretty hostile against members airing unwanted truth.

Bill held the opinion "I made these guys sober. They have to pay my way."

Bill was an ardent follower of Dale Carnegie's courses, "How to influence people", which he attended together with Lois back then. Thus Bill was intelligent enough to wrap his opinion in nice words to get it down the throats of others.

  • He used to say WE instead of ME.
  • He used to say "A.A. has saved these men and their families," instead of "I, Bill Wilson, saved these men and their families."
  • He used to say PAY FOR OUR OFFICE instead of PAY FOR MY LIVING.
  • He had the habit of hiding behind others by saying things like "Miss Hock and I" or "Dr. Bob and I."


"Many of us are beginning to feel that Alcoholics Anonymous ought to stand on its own feet, certainly so far as central office expenses are concerned. It is probable that more than 1500 of our 2000 members are now employed. A.A. has saved these men and their families an average of at least a thousand dollars a year each, let alone misery and ultimate ruin. In short, our total membership is going to be one million — even two million dollars better off this year because of A.A. Most of us appreciate these facts of our recovery, and I am sure that when the small though acute needs of our central office are made clear, the groups will lend a hand. In fact it is beginning to look as though they must if we are to carry on."

Source document:
[ Local mirror: orange-memo41.pdf ]


It is our task to do fellowship inventory and clear away this wreckage of the past.


--- End forwarded message ---

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Last updated 1 July 2002.
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