William Griffith “Bill” Wilson

William Griffith “Bill” Wilson

East Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont, USA
Death 24 Jan 1971 (aged 75)
Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA
Burial East Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont, USA
Memorial ID 2535 · View Source
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Social Reformer. He was a co-founder of the mutual-help group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Together with Dr. Bob Smith, Wilson founded AA as a safe haven for those who suffered from alcoholism, and in so doing created one of the landmark organizations of modern times, which in the past 70 years has touched countless millions of lives. His wife, Lois Burnham Wilson, founded Al-Anon, a support group dedicated to the needs of the friends and families of alcoholics. His friend Aldous Huxley described Bill Wilson as "the greatest social architect of the Twentieth Century." He was born William Griffith Wilson on November 26, 1895 in the quarry town of East Dorset, Vermont. Wilson was a child of divorce. Abandoned first by his father, then by his mother, he was raised by his grandparents. After a troubled childhood, he joined the U.S. Army. It was then he discovered that alcohol reduced his nervousness in social situations and eased his periodic bouts of depression. But the comfort Wilson found in alcohol came at a high price. Married in 1918 to Lois Burnham, they toured the country on a motorcycle and appeared to be a prosperous, promising young couple. But gradually alcohol took over Wilson’s life. By 1933, the couple was living on charity with Lois’ parents in a house on Clinton Street in Brooklyn, New York. Wilson had become an unemployable drunk who disdained religion and even panhandled for cash at times. Finally, while recuperating from a drinking binge in a New York hospital, he was inspired to help others caught in a similar situation as a means of helping himself. This became the central concept for Alcoholics Anonymous, which Wilson founded in 1935 with fellow alcoholic Dr. Robert Smith, based on the principle that only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic. The group was an immediate success on a small scale, but in 1940 they gained important financial support from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and then in 1941, when “The Saturday Evening Post” ran an article on the group, membership really took off in a big way. As the movement grew rapidly, Wilson and the AA fellowship came to a mutual decision to decrease his personal involvement in accordance with the AA tradition that principles come before personalities. He refused numerous honors during his life, including an honorary degree from Yale University, and declined offers to have his face on the covers of national magazines such as “Time.” A chronic smoker, Wilson died of emphysema and pneumonia on January 24, 1971 in Miami, Florida. Bill Wilson's story and his eventual founding of AA has been dramatized as a TV movie called “My Name is Bill W.” starring James Woods and James Garner. The phrase "Friends of Bill W." is sometimes used as a code of recognition among members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today millions of AA members hold meetings worldwide in church basements, hospital conference rooms and school gyms, following Wilson's informal structure. Members identify themselves as alcoholics and share their stories; there are no rules, no dues or entry requirements, and many members use only first names.

Bio by: Edward Parsons

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2535
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Griffith “Bill” Wilson (26 Nov 1895–24 Jan 1971), Find a Grave Memorial no. 2535, citing East Dorset Cemetery, East Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .