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A Brief Look At Dr. Bob

Dr Bob AA Founder

The name Robert Holbrook Smith may not ring an immediate bell to those working in the recovery field.  That’s because he’s better known as Dr. Bob, who along with Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.  And even though that name may strike some outside the recovery realm as a bit informal, to those that have ever successfully stayed on the path of sobriety, the name Dr. Bob has a considerable amount of gravitas.  And with good reason, as the 12-step program that he helped create remains the backbone of many a recovered alcoholic’s day to day walk of sobriety.

Dr. Bob’s Early Years

Dr. Bob was born in Vermont in 1879.  En route to completing his collegiate degrees – first at Dartmouth College, then at Rush Medical School in Chicago, he developed into a steady drinker.  This condition would progress and worsen over time, even after he married high school sweetheart Anne Ripley, moved to Akron, and began practicing as a successful surgeon.

Dr. Bob’s struggles with alcohol continued during Prohibition and up until 1935, when he met Bill Wilson.  An entrepreneur and businessman from New York, Wilson used his own struggles with alcoholism to show Dr. Bob how he used spiritual help to recover from the clutches of alcoholism.  Wilson’s methods inspired Dr. Bob to have his last drink on June 10, 1935, which is the date that many Alcoholics Anonymous members cite as the official start of AA.

Other people may cite 1939 as the official birth of AA, as Dr. Bob and Wilson co-wrote the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which is occasionally known as The Big Book.  The book still serves as the foundation for the basic tenants of the AA-fueled recovery program.

Dr. Bob and the 12-Step Program

Dr. Bob’s association with Alcoholics Anonymous’ famed 12-step program is one that is built on intrigue.  The legend goes that his family took him to religious services four times a week, and he was such a non-fan of this practice, he supposedly vowed that he would never attend religious services as an adult.  Whether or not that is factual, it still stands as an interesting tidbit considering the spiritual grounding of the 12-step program.

And even though Bill Wilson dubbed Dr. Bob the “Prince of Twelfth Steppers” – a nicknamed earned because Dr. Bob personally treated over 5,000 alcoholics for free – Dr. Bob said that he didn’t have anything to do with the actual writing of the 12 Steps.  He stated that the fundamental concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous came from his own study of the Bible, and that the concepts that derived from this are deeply connected to love and service.  Even though Dr. Bob didn’t write the 12-steps, his legacy is nonetheless partially defined by their effectiveness.

The Lasting Legacy of Dr. Bob

Dr. Bob’s story is one that ends on a happy note.  After that fateful day in June of 1935, he remained sober the rest of his life, until he passed away from colon cancer in 1950.  The fact that he was proof of the effectiveness of his own system continues to speak volumes of how important and relevant it continues to be to this day.

And it certainly remains relevant.  It is estimated that over two million people claim membership into Alcoholics Anonymous worldwide, spread out over 170 countries.  And even though the program was launched on the heels of Prohibition’s repeal, Dr. Bob’s basic system built on love and service hasn’t changed much, nor has it needed to.  Through the years, Dr. Bob’s system has shown to be an effective and powerful tool to help those that struggle with alcoholism find and stay on the path to recovery.  And considering how much investment Dr. Bob put into shepherding people along that path during the early stages of the program, it is rather easy to imagine that he would be very proud of the legacy he left behind.

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