When I first gave up drinking, many, many moons ago, I did so at a NHS Treatment centre called the Robert Smith Unit. I was completely oblivious as to why the place was called this name but as a means of keeping me sober it was suggested that I attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and commit to the 12 step programme. So I started turning up at AA meetings and became a group member. I did service in these meetings and read the Big Book cover to cover. It was only at this time that I became aware of AA’s founders Bill W and Dr Bob. Slowly as I got into AA more the penny dropped and understood that the Robert Smith unit was named after one of AA’s founders Robert Holbrook Smith variously known as Bob S or Dr Bob.

Dr Bob’s journey to sobriety is adequately covered in the Grapevine article DR. BOB’S STORY. I would recommend it for the major events in Dr Bob’s early life and alcoholism.

It was Bill W that realised that to retain his sobriety he was going to have to give it away. He enthusiastically would approach Alcoholics, wherever he could find them, and tell them his story. Unsuccessfully at first but Bill realised by doing this it strengthened his resolve in the matter. It was this way when he found himself stranded in Acron, Ohio after a business meeting. Bill knew he had to go about the business of talking to other Alcoholics or fall foul of his disease. After a few phone calls Bill and Bob were introduced to each other at the house of a mutual acquaintance with the hope that Bill’s story would have an effect on Bob’s continuing efforts to find his own sobriety. After several intense hours of discussion it worked! One small relapse later Dr Bob was able to find his sobriety on June 10, 1935 with his last drink, a beer to steady his hands before an important operation, remaining sober thereafter. This is now understood to be the birth date of AA.

Our founder’s partnership was forged in the depths of a battle we all know and flourished in the heady days, weeks, months and years that followed. It was not only their doing but they started out on this project as two fellows that invited people with the same problem to join with them at a meeting where they would drink coffee and talk of the issues that they individually had. Soon the two became three, then three became five then another meeting sprang up. Before long groups sprang up in every corner of America before making its way to every corner of the globe. At these meetings they discussed their habit, how they broke it and what it means to be sober. They offer support from fellows who understand the exact nature of their problem.

Dr Bob was instrumental in gifting us The 12 Step Program, The 12 Traditions, The 12 Concepts as well as many of the sayings that adorn the walls of our meetings. We have continued to develop as an organisation but these early lessons are still relevant today. What has not developed is the disease. It is the same as it was in the days when Bill and Bob met and responds to the same stimuli. By meeting and sharing our experiences it helps us to keep a clear perspective of our weakness. By service to others it helps us to see our strengths. So it was with Dr Bob. His selfless service to AA helped him to grow as an individual. He came from a, well educated, wreck of a man to a giant among giants. His dysfunctional family was transformed into a loving environment that helped him to nurture an idea into a movement that spans the world. This was achieved by individuals treading the same path that Bill and Dr Bob had trod, needing to find a solution to their own alcoholic habits. The solution becoming the reason for its existence.

Dr Bob was known as the “Prince of Twelfth Steppers” having helped 5000 Alcoholics in his lifetime. Well Sir, on this the anniversary of your death on November 16, 1950, you should at least consider adding another because the Robert Smith Unit twelfth stepped me, among others, in your name.


For more on the early growth of AA read “Dr Bob and the Good Old Timers” either from your meetings literature table or down loaded to your device from these links.

We keep what we have only by giving it away.