Ebby Thatcher's Eulogy
By Bill W.
In his seventieth year, and on the twenty-first of March, my
friend and sponsor "Ebby" passed beyond our sight and
On a chill November afternoon in 1934 it was Ebby who had
brought me the message that saved my life. Still more importantly,
he was the bearer of the Grace and of the principles that shortly
afterward led to my spiritual awakening. This was truly a call to
new life in the Spirit. It was the kid of rebirth that has since
become the most precious possession of each and all of us.
As I looked upon him where he lay in perfect repose, I was
stirred by poignant memories of all the years I had known and
There were recollections of those joyous days in a Vermont
boarding school. After the war years we were sometimes together,
then drinking of course. Alcohol, we thought, was the solvent for
all difficulties, a veritable elixir for good living.
Then there was that absurd episode of 1929. Ebby and I were on
an all-night spree in Albany. Suddenly we remembered that a new
airfield had been constructed in Vermont, on a pasture near my own
home town. The opening day was close at hand. Then came the
intoxicating thought: If only we could hire a plane we'd beat the
opening by several days, thus making aviation history ourselves!
Forthwith, Ebby routed a pilot friend out of bed, and for a stiff
price we engaged him and his small craft. We sent the town fathers
a wire announcing the time of our arrival. In midmorning, we took
to the air, greatly elated -- and very tight.
Somehow our rather tipsy pilot set us down on the field. A
large crowd, including the village band and a welcoming committee,
lustily cheered his feat. The pilot then deplaned. But nothing
else happened, nothing at all. The onlookers stood in puzzled
silence. Where were Ebby and Bill? Then the horrible discovery was
made -- we were both slumped in the rear cockpit of the plane,
completely passed out! Kind friends lifted us down and stood us
upon the ground. Whereupon we history-makers fell flat on our
faces. Ignominiously, we had to be carted away. The fiasco could
not have been more appalling. We spent the next day shakily
Over the following five years, I seldom saw Ebby. But of course
our drinking went on and on. In late 1934 I got a terrific jolt
when I learned that Ebby was about to be locked up, this time in a
state mental hospital.
Following a serious of mad sprees, he had run his father's new
Packard off the road and into the side of a dwelling, smashing
right into its kitchen, and just missing a terrified housewife.
Thinking to east this rather awkward situation, Ebby summoned his
brightest smile and said, "Well, my dear, how about a cup of
Of course Ebby's lighthearted humor was quite lost on everyone
concerned. Their patience worn thin, the town fathers yanked him
into court. To all appearances, Ebby's a final destination was the
insane asylum. To me, this marked the end of the line for us both.
Only a short time before, my physician, Dr. Silkworth, had felt
obliged to tell Lois there was no hope of my recovery; that I, too
would have to be confined, else risk insanity or death.
But providence would have it otherwise. It was presently
learned that Ebby had been paroled into the custody of friends who
(for the time being) had achieved their sobriety in the Oxford
Groups. They brought Ebby to New York where he fell under the
benign influence of AA's great friend-to-be, Dr. Sam Shoemaker,
the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church. Much affected by Sam and
the "O. G." Ebby promptly sobered up. Hearing of my
serious condition, he had straight-way come to our house in
As I continued to recollect, the vision of Ebby looking at me
across our kitchen table became wonderfully vivid. As most AA's
know, he spoke to me of the release from hopelessness that had
come to him (through the Oxford Groups) as the result of
self-survey, restitution, outgoing helpfulness to others, and
prayer. In short, he was proposing the attitudes and principles
that I used later in developing AA's Twelve Steps to recovery.
It had happened. One alcoholic had effectively carried the
message to another. Ebby had been enabled to bring me the gift of
Grace because he could reach me at depth through the language of
the heart. He had pushed ajar that great gate through which all in
AA have since passed to find their freedom under God.
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