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Robert "Bob" "Smitty" Ripley Smith II, born June 5, 1918, the last eyewitness of the start of Alcoholics Anonymous, died of congestive heart failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. about 5 o'clock Thursday evening, April 22, 2004.
"Smitty," his nickname in youth and later at recovery gatherings worldwide, was the only son of Anne Smith and Akron, Ohio physician Dr. Bob Smith. Then teenagers, young Bob and sister Sue were there on Mother's day 1935 when his father, Dr. Bob, met one time New York stock analyst Bill Wilson for the first time.
Bob had driven his parents, Anne and Dr. Bob, to the gate house of the Seiberling Estate in Akron at the request of Henrietta Seiberling. He and Sue were still in high school and only 16 years old.
Dr. Bob and Bill co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelve step recovery program that has helped more than two million people worldwide recover from the disease of alcoholism. AA's twelve step program has been replicated by more than 250 other groups that use the same steps to overcome addictions to drugs, gambling, food, sex and other behaviors.
Bob Smith joined Al-Anon, a recovery program for the spouses, family, friends and other loved ones of alcoholics, when his wife Betty began attending AA meetings in Nocona, Texas in the late 1970s. Bob told that if anyone should have known about alcoholism, he should have, but said he really didn't have a clue, until after Betty started in AA and he in Al-Anon.
It was only then, Smitty would say, that he realized the enormity of his father's contribution to the world in the co-founding of AA. In the past 27 years, Bob Smith accepted invitations to speak at AA and Al-Anon Conventions worldwide thirty to forty times a year. Smith made his last talk three weeks ago in Chicago's Indiana suburbs at the Talumet Round-Up. He had cut back on his speaking engagements to twenty to twenty-five a year only as he entered his mid-80s.
Smitty would say of such invitations, "they didn't invite me for who I am. It's who I know," referring to the famous co-founders of AA who are regarded as spiritual giants by recovering alcoholics worldwide. Bob Smith would share his memories of AA's pioneering days at conferences, recalling how his parents and Bill Wilson allowed recovering drunks to stay in their Akron home at 855 Ardmore Avenue, often coming home to find a drunk in his bed, his home filled with alcoholics. Bob Smith's childhood home is visited annually by thousands who wish to see where the program of recovery had its origins.
"It was such a gift to live with Bob. We decided if we had two weeks together or ten years together, we'd take it one day at a time and that's what we did, " said Mona Sides-Smith, a Memphis based therapist, who married the son of the AA co-founder in September 2002. Smith's first wife of more than fifty years, Betty Smith, died several years earlier. Bob Smith leaves a son from his marriage to Betty, Todd Smith of Vernon, Texas and two daughters, Penny Umbertino of Phoenix, Arizona and Judy Edmiston of Dallas, Texas. He leaves one granddaughter, Kathy Graser of Denver, Colorado. Smith also leave three Stepdaughters: Rachel Farmer, Elaine Orland and Elizabeth Douglas, all of Memphis.
Smith spent his working life in Texas as an oil producer. He served as a pilot in World War II, flying the B-24 Liberator on 35 submarine hunting missions out of Africa. After the war, he worked as a commercial pilot and later in the oil industry, settling in Nocona, Texas, about 20 miles from the Oklahoma border. He was elected to the City Council from 1984 to 1991 and was mayor of the town of 3,000 from 1991 to 1993. But he spent the last three decades of his life focused on sharing the gift his father helped bring into the world, AA.
In his book CHILDREN OF THE HEALER (Copyright 1992, Parkside Publishing Company), co-authored with his late sister, Sue Smith Windows, Smitty's thoughts written on the dedication page seem a fitting epitaph, "For the loving God who allowed me to lead a very exciting life and also loved me through my many mistakes and who allows me to be of service. For the constant love and understanding of four good kids and a steadfast wife. I am truly grateful. For my loving parents who tried to instill in me values by their tireless example. For the many friends I have met and know as a result of 12 step programs. You have taught me a way of life in these programs that I never would have figured out by myself. I am truly grateful."
One AA member said upon learning of Smitty's death in Memphis, "many thousands of AAs who met Smitty and heard him tell the eyewitness account of AA's origins will mourn his passing but will celebrate his life and the great gifts he shared."
Here is Mona's account of their courtship, marriage and their love.
Dr. Bob's Son Marries Anonymous Woman
THE PROPOSAL: Several women have asked how Bob ("Smitty" to many) proposed to me, and I always say I don't know. One day he introduced me as his fiance. I assumed the proposal had happened and didn't question him. No man likes to hear that his bride-to-be forgot the proposal. I still don't know how it happened. He obviously doesn't remember either. I'm living my seventieth year; Bob is in his eighty-fifth year. Memory lapses happen. But at this age, life is simpler. Relationships can be easier. Anyway, it doesn't matter how the proposal happened.
THE HAPPY COUPLE: The groom is Dr. Bob's son, twenty-three years in Al-Anon, the widower of a recovering alcoholic. He is retired and the father of four children; one of whom is deceased. I am the widow of a recovering alcoholic. I have twenty-six years in AA and thirty-seven years in Al-Anon. I'm the mother of three daughters, one of whom is an adopted niece. We both spent childhoods in homes with practicing alcoholic fathers.
THE CHILDREN'S RESPONSE: At the kitchen table, my adult daughters, who have gone to Twelve Step meetings since they were toddlers, gave me their thoughts and feelings--and warnings--about the relationship. "Whatever pleases you, please us." "We like him." Then the warning: "But, Mom, you do realize that he has alcoholism in his family!"
THE RING: The Pig 'N Whistle barbecue cafe, just outside Memphis, was where Bob gave me the engagement ring. Memphis is famous for its barbecue. Bob is not a famous romantic. The ring is an antique Russian ring that was a gift to Bob from his father, Dr. Bob. It is a wide white gold ring with a diamond in the middle and sapphires around it. It is also our wedding ring. It is a complete ring, physically and symbolically. I love and cherish it, as I love and cherish my husband.
SENIORS DON'T MARRY: When we went for the marriage license, the clerk looked past a young couple sitting in front of her desk, pointed to us, and said, "You two are old enough to know better." We got the license anyway. In these times, many senior citizens live together without marriage. We discussed and rejected that idea. We wanted to show our friends, relatives, children, grandchildren (and the clerk at the marriage license office) that we were committed to each other. We left with our license singing, "They tried to tell us we're too old. . . ."
We sing to each other often. We have heard and learned a lot of songs in our combined one hundred and fifty years of living and listening. Sometimes we sing together, and sometimes to each other by candlelight. Singing improves the spirit, the memory, and the breathing. Candlelight softens the soul.
THE WEDDING: When we started putting together a wedding invitation list, it looked as if we would need to rent a coliseum for the event. We were exhausted just thinking about it. We wanted to include the thousands of people who know and love Bob, hundreds of whom had told us they really, really wanted to be included in the wedding festivities. And of course we wanted to include my friends. My list is shorter than Bob's, but nevertheless, it is still a long one. At our age, we have more friends, but less stamina for celebration. Therefore, we decided to marry as soon as possible and to include only members of our immediate families present in Memphis, Tennessee. We were married four days later with six family members, the minister, and a photographer looking on. It was a small, lovely wedding that took place on September 25, 2002. Bob was quick to assure anyone who would listen that we did not "have to get married."
Bob tells people that during the wedding night, he was the one who sat on the side of the bed and cried.
DAY-TO-DAY LIVING: How do we live together every day after living alone for so many years -- four years for Bob and eleven years for me? We close our mouths and breathe through our noses a lot. As my nine-year-old grandson said one day when my mouth didn't stay closed, "Grandma, give him a break. He's eighty-four-years old!"
Life is simpler in these later years. Whenever we can, we go where we are invited, be it across town or across the continent. We also make time to do serious and frequent snuggling.
Some things we practice, most of the time, are: If we already know the answer, leave the issue alone. If there is a difference of opinion, leave it alone. Opinions are neither right nor wrong; they are just opinions. Bob says, "If any two of us were just alike, one of us would be unnecessary." It's okay to be different. We celebrate the difference. When we can, we laugh about it, and we usually can. When we are angry, we say so. Anger is all right; aggression is not.
Having a companion and lover at our ages is not only the greatest gift we can imagine. It is a precious spiritual connection. Knowing that one cannot be spiritual and judgmental at the same time, we speak of our gratitude and show it by staying in good spirits with one another and almost everyone else. We share our story and our gladness with our friends and family.
Mona S. Memphis, Tennessee
I had the delightful pleasure of listening to Smitty tell the story several times, and attending meetings of AA and Alanon with him here in the Spokane Valley when he visited in the Pacific Northwest.
Love and Peace, Barefoot
As in so many things, especially with we alcoholics, our History is our Greatest Asset!. We each arrived at the doors of AA with an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That Do Not Work" . Today, In AA and In Recovery, Our History has added an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That DO Work!!" and We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it!!
KEEP COMING BACK!
On the Web Feb 13, 2002 in the Spirit of Cooperation
Three mighty important things, Pardn'r, LOVE And PEACE and SOBRIETY