Bob Smith is dead. As his lovely wife Mona has written, thousands will be writing condolences and mourning the loss of this great warrior—“The Amazing Bob,” as Mona called him in her reports of his recent illness and hospitalization.
Yes. Thousands will write, phone, send condolences, and mourn. They will say lots of great things about “Smitty.” Some of these things I know. And some I don’t. But I do believe I have a special relationship with the “Tribe” that merits reporting because it shows how much Smitty gave and was willing to give of love and service in his last few years—in his late seventies and eighties. And that’s when I knew him.
When I first began researching AA history and writing about it, I was immediately in touch with Dr. Bob’s daughter Sue Smith Windows. It was she who showed me some of Dr. Bob’s books among the host she had in her attic. It was she who put to rest the erroneously reported story that Dr. Bob had given away all his books. And it was she who made a list for me of those she owned and later took me to her attic to see in Akron. It was she who told me there was another “half” in possession of her brother (about which, there will be more in a moment). And it was Sue who wrote the letter to GSO Archives Committee, asking them to send me a copy of her mother’s “Journal,” which had languished in the shadows for decades. And it was Sue, along with Smitty, who gave me many of the materials and the endorsements for my first three AA history books—Dr. Bob’s Library, Anne Smith’s Journal, and The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous. And Sue kept in touch with Smitty as to everything she was doing.
What of Smitty?
Right after the Seattle Convention in 1990, I contacted Smitty, told him that our little group in Marin County, California, was going to do a history conference with AA archivist Frank Mauser, a film of “Bill’s Story,” and the “Dawn of Hope” story. Smitty declined. For one thing, he didn’t know me from Adam’s off ox. But that situation was not to last for long. In the ensuing year, I contacted Smitty by phone, told me of Sue’s doings as to the Dr. Bob books and the Anne Smith Journal. Smitty always got on the phone with his then wife Betty. And the two promised immediate cooperation on two major items: First, they would send me a list of the Dr. Bob books that they had in their possession, and did so. Second, they would dig out of their files the many letters in tribute to Anne Smith on her death, that Bill had promised to publish, but never did. And they sent me those letters.
Armed with the almost complete list of the books Dr. Bob had read, studied, circulated, and placed his name in, I wrote Dr. Bob’s Library—the strange looking yellow book that was published by The Bishop of Books. Later, I used additional materials gathered from the Seiberling family, the Clarence Snyder relatives, and many manuscripts to write The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth. Meanwhile, “Anne Smith’s Journal” arrived from Frank Mauser at GSO archives. I gave a copy to Sue, and she said many pages were missing. Then, I went to Stepping Stones and found another copy—that visit facilitated by Frank Mauser, Nell Wing, and Paul Lang, the archivist. And off we went with “Anne Smith’s Spiritual Journal.”
These clues began to give the real picture of early AA—something that was being encouraged by Nell Wing and Frank Mauser. But it was only the start. Because, I soon discovered how many of Dr. Bob’s books and how much of Anne Smith’s Journal made repeated references to Oxford Group books and ideas as well as the writings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker. I also was in touch with Congressman John Seiberling, who was teaching at Akron University’s Peace Center. And from John and his sisters came more information about the Akron beginnings and the Oxford Group. Then the flood gates were open. I was in touch with a host of the Oxford Group survivors, with the entire Shoemaker family, with T. Henry Williams’s daughter, and many others. From Jim and Ellie Newton in Florida, George Vondermuhll, Jr. in Connecticut, Garth Lean in Great Britain, and Willard Hunter in California, the story of Shoemaker, the Oxford Group events in Akron, and the Oxford Group ideas began to come in place.
But I’m getting ahead of my story. Our little AA group in Marin sponsored the first real AA history conference I know of. It was called “A Day in Marin.” Frank Mauser was the principal speaker; the films were shown; and I covered the Oxford Group—with Frank’s telling me I had a book in me. About eight hundred AAs attended. And Frank asked when we were going to put on the “Son of Day in Marin.” Which is what we did. Frank was not available the next year. But when I contacted Smitty, he and Betty jumped at the invitation. Willard Hunter came and spoke on the Oxford Group. Mel B. came and spoke on the spiritual roots of the program. And I spoke on the Bible roots. Again, about eight hundred attended. This time, Smitty and his wife Betty said over and over that they never felt a greater uplift at any conference than this one on the Biblical roots of early AA.
There followed my title The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous. It put together the real story of Akron’s beginnings—a story that was partly and well recounted in A.A.’s DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, but lacked specifics. As was beginning to occur, this title received endorsements from Smitty, Sue, and John Seiberling, and it is still in print and available.
The years went by. I met with Smitty and Betty for lunch at the San Diego Convention. I arranged to meet with Smitty at the Minneapolis Convention and spoke just before he did at Archives 2000. By that time, Sue and Smitty had published their “Children of the Healer”—which was a pip. I knew them well by that time. And they spoke in different cadences and with different words. As I read the book, I felt as though I were actually listening to them speak. The book faithfully recorded their “voices,” their recollections, and a great deal more of our treasured early spiritual history.
A little more than a year ago, I was contacted by Ed M. in Phoenix about putting on a history conference that would really cover the fast retreating “God” part of A.A. I suggested that he have as speakers, in addition to me, Smitty, and Ray G.—the archivist at Dr. Bob’s Home. I also suggested that Ray bring his archives, collections, and the Dr. Bob and other books which had grown into large proportions. Smitty came, and I met his new wife Mona for the first time. Ray G. and his wife Ginny came and displayed all their memorabilia, while Ray talked and showed pictures. The Conference became “The First Nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference.” And it is still rolling. In fact, Smitty was scheduled to speak there next February. The high point for me was to sit on an “askit baskit” panel with Smitty and Ray and field all kinds of questions about early A.A.
I want to conclude with these two factual events pertaining to Sue and Smitty.
First, when I was in Akron for my first research visit, a reporter from an Ohio newspaper was interviewing me. She said she wished she could meet Dr. Bob’s daughter. And at that very moment, Sue and a friend were walking into the lobby of the Quaker Hilton. I asked Sue to come over. The reporter asked Sue what she thought about all the history books I was writing, and Sue said she thought they were just fine. Then the reporter said, “Do AAs still believe that material about the Bible?” Sue replied, “Those who are still around certainly do.” And I could have kissed her because who would better know than the woman who gave unselfishly of her time at Dr. Bob’s Home and at Founders Day.
Second, as I got to know Smitty and his then wife Betty quite well, I learned two very positive things. Betty sought me out when I was in the home in Nocona Texas and Smitty was in the hospital and discussed Christianity, the Bible, and prayer with me at great length. She invited the pastor of their church to come and meet me, and we talked lots about the Book of James and AA. We then went to the hospital where Smitty was in bed. And he said, “Dick, you sure turned the preacher on. He’s still talking about the Bible and AA; and he’s in AA. Those were the earlier days, but I saw a change in the way Smitty spoke of God. His father, Dr. Bob, had often referred to the Creator as our “Heavenly Father.” In fact, that’s the last line of Dr. Bob’s personal story on page 181 of the Big Book. And, by the time I was listening to Smitty or the platform with Nell Wing, Sue, and a couple of old-timers, Smitty must have spoken about Yahweh, our Creator, quite a few times. And each time, Smitty referred to Him as our “Heavenly Father.”
Smitty’s last words to me on the phone were that he was going to continue speaking around the country and was booked solid for months. He said, “You know, I’m the last of the Tribe.” And who were its members? They were Anne Smith, Dr. Bob, Sue Smith Windows, Betty Smith—Smitty’s wife, and Smitty. All these knew the facts about A.A.’s beginnings. Sue and Smitty attended many of the early meetings. Both loved their mother Anne with deep and abiding love. Smitty was the only person still alive who was present when Bill met Dr. Bob at Henrietta Seiberling’s Gate House Lodge.
Yes. Smitty was the last of the Tribe of believers that looked to their Heavenly Father for love, forgiveness, strength, and guidance from the beginnings of their lives to the end. Though I knew her for only a short while, I immediately saw this same faith and love in Mona Sides-Smith who saw the loving and humorous Robert R. Smith through several of his last and greatest years. And now we know the facts for sure.