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houck1.jpg (28156 bytes)James Houck and Alcoholics Anonymous
By Wally P. Archivist, Historian, and Author

During the past five years, I have been asked on numerous occasions to answer specific questions about James H.. The three questions that come up the most are:

  1. Is James H. a member of A.A.?

  2. Is James H. a recovering alcoholic?

  3. Is James H. a member of the Oxford Group?

Sometimes there are no easy answers even when the questions seem to be simple and straightforward. This is certainly the case when trying to explain the relationship of James H., the Back to Basics Beginners' Meetings, and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Although there are now more than 2,000 Back to Basics Beginners' Groups throughout the world which have produced more than 100,000 recoveries, there are still people within the A.A. community who are unfamiliar with this "original" meeting format or the role James H. has played in bringing this highly successful "design for living" back to the fellowship. James is the last living link to the spiritual roots of the Alcoholics Anonymous program that produced a 75% recovery rate from alcoholism.

Many people today know very little about the early days, except for what they have read or what they have heard from some "old-timers" (actually newcomers compared to James H.) who sobered up in the 1970's. They don't realize that the program of the 1970's was quite different from the "original" program of the 1940's. The program has continued to change over the years and has reached a point where today A.A. has only a 5-10% recovery rate, depending upon which study you read.

Figures published by GSO show that the fellowship peaked in 1992 at 2.2 million members and has declined 20% since then. Prior to the 1990's, the fellowship doubled in membership every ten years. The objective of Back to Basics is to reverse this decline by reintroducing the "original" Beginners' Meetings that worked for three out of every four people who entered the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

James H. is truly a unique individual. He is ninety-five years old, sixty-six years sober, and one of the greatest "life-changers" of the past one hundred years.

Just like Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and the other "Big Book" authors, James H. found God and sobriety in the Oxford Group. And, just like Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and the other "Big Book" authors, James had his spiritual awakening as the direct result of taking the Oxford Group Four Steps of Surrender, Sharing, Restitution and Guidance.

James attended Oxford Group meetings with Bill Wilson in Frederick, MD from 1935-1937. The Oxford Group considered all addictions to be equally detrimental in terms of cutting a person off from God. There was no more emphasis on alcohol than there was on smoking, womanizing, or drug addiction. All of these behaviors left us in the dark relying on self-will, rather than God's will to solve our problems. The Group believed that self could not overcome self. Only God could remove our addictions and afflictions, provided we established an intimate two-way relationship with Him. In 1937, Bill left the Group to work full time with alcoholics.

As James explains it, when Bill Wilson left the Oxford he didn't take all the drunks with him. James remained in the Oxford Group, as did Rowland Hazard, Cebra Graves, Victor Kitchen, and Charles Clapp among others. In fact, Dr. Bob didn't leave the Group until 1940; almost a year after the "Big Book" was written.

James is the only person alive today who has first hand knowledge of the material Bill Wilson and the other "Big Book" authors used to write the book Alcoholics Anonymous. On numerous occasions, he has stated that the "Big Book" is Oxford Group literature written for a specific segment of the Oxford Group fellowship.

Although James stayed in the Oxford Group, he did have contact with the early A.A. fellowship through Sam Shoemaker, a mutual friend of his and Bill Wilson's. Sam Shoemaker was the rector of the Calvary Church in New York City, which was the United States headquarters of the Oxford Group. Bill Wilson attended Oxford Group meetings at the Calvary Church and Sam was instrumental in assisting Bill Wilson with the writing of the "Big Book" Bill acknowledged this linkage when he wrote on page 39 of A.A. Comes of Age:

"The early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."

Since the Oxford Group had been responsible for his spiritual awakening, James remained with the fellowship even after it changed its name to Moral Re-Armament in 1938. He didn't attend A.A. meetings until the 1980's when he was working with a grandson who had a drinking problem. At these meetings, he saw people practicing a program that did not even remotely resemble the "original" program of the 1940's. That's when he started to speak at A.A. events about the early days of the fellowship.

James H. does not consider himself to be a recovering alcoholic. The term "recovering" is belittling, it refers to someone still struggling with the problem rather than living in the solution. It is an expression that evolved from the treatment centers in the 1970's. This is how James describes his recovery:

"To me 'recovering' means you haven't made the grade yet. You're still not sure of your position.

"I am absolutely sure of my position. God took alcohol out of my life on December 12, 1934, and when God took alcohol out of my life, He took it out forever."

James is a recovered alcoholic, which is the term used by Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and the A.A. pioneers. The word can be found seventeen times in the first 164 pages of the "Big Book." In addition, James sometimes refers to himself as an ex-alcoholic. This expression was used in the first ten printings of the first edition of the "Big Book." In 1947, "ex-alcoholic" was changed to "ex-problem drinker."

James does not identify himself as an alcoholic from the podium. Here again he follows the precedent set by Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and the A.A. pioneers. Neither Bill nor Dr. Bob ever identified themselves as alcoholics when speaking at A.A. meetings. To verify this all you have to do is listen to the audio tape recordings of their speeches. The ritual of identifying oneself as an alcoholic, followed by a chant from the audience of "Hi _______," also came from the treatment centers decades after the fellowship came into being. It is not a part of the "original" A.A. program.

James does not claim to be the oldest living member of A.A. because he does not want, in any way, to overshadow those who have maintained continuous sobriety after the fellowship was formed in the spring of 1939. Therefore, Duke P. of Jacksonville Florida is the oldest member of A.A. with a sobriety date of 8/15/40, even though Duke's sobriety date is almost six years after James=.

This is also the reason James uses his last name when speaking at A.A. events. He downplays his membership in A.A. to avoid being considered the oldest living member of the fellowship.

Keep in mind that James H., Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith all found permanent sobriety in the Oxford Group. If we say that James H.'s sobriety date isn't important because he sobered up in the Oxford Group, then we must say the same thing about Bill and Dr. Bob.

  1. This has been a lengthy explanation of several very simple questions. In summary:

    Is James H. a member of A.A.?

    Yes, he is as much a member of A.A. as anyone else who has a desire to stop drinking. However, for James the compulsion to drink was successfully removed on December 12, 1934. He has not had a drink of alcohol or taken a mood altering substance (including nicotine) since that day.

    James has an A.A. home group. It meets on Thursday nights at the Towson, MD Methodist church.

  2. Is James H. a recovering alcoholic?

    No. James H., Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith all had drinking problems, which they overcame in the Oxford Group as the direct result of taking the Four Steps of Surrender, Sharing, Restitution, and Guidance. Since December 12, 1934, James has been a recovered alcoholic or ex-alcoholic.

  3. Is James H. a member of the Oxford Group?

    James H. was a member of the Oxford Group in the 1930's and is a member of Moral Re-Armament today. He is also a member of the Hunt Valley Rotary Club and the Towson, MD Methodist Church.

Although the Oxford Group, as such, does not physically exist anymore, the principles of the Group are just as valuable as a "design for living" today as they were in the 1930's. Both James H. and I apply the Four Standards of Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness and Love to our thoughts, words and deeds; use Restitution to become life-changers; and rely upon the Guidance of God to direct every area of our lives. In this sense, the Oxford Group is alive within each and every person who practices the "original" A.A. program in order to witness once again the miraculous results obtained by our A.A. pioneers.

James H. - The Last Living Link to the Spiritual Roots of Alcohlics Anonymous
James attended Oxford Group Meetings with Bill W., co-founder of A.A. from 1935-1937 Recorded in Clare, Michigan on September 18, 1999
Order the Video Now!!!
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Click here for upcoming Speaking Engagements

Read an article about Mr. H.

MRA NEWSLETTER:  DECEMBER, 1997
Life in the Guided Lane

91 year old Jim H. is the only man alive who knew the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. A Dayton, Ohio, crowd, estimated at 600, recently heard him recall working with AA co-founder Bill Wilson and trace AA's evolution from the Oxford Group. H. challenged AA members to move beyond their daily quest for sobriety to commit themselves fully to God and to listen daily to their inner voice for direction.

"NEW MEN - NEW NATIONS - A NEW WORLD" were the words that caught the attention of Jim H. many years ago. This was the theme phrase of Frank Buckman and the Oxford Group in the mid-thirties. What interested Him was a real reason to change. He always wanted to be a part of something new. Jim had been taught that just being "good" was sufficient, but, somehow, he seemed to end up being "good for nothing." Jim was a seeker and had committed his life to God back in 1918 at a YMCA evangelistic meeting, but it did not "take" because he lived his life on the same basis as the other "christians" around him and he naturally though this was "par for the course." It did not offer much of a challenge. Strangely enough, 16 years later, in that same room in the same YMCA, he met the Oxford Group, the predecessor of Moral Re-Armament. This time is was different. This time he was confronted with a program for his life. The Oxford Group brouht him face to face witht the four absolute standards of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love with which to judge his life. He also learned about two-way prayer - if you listened to the deepest thing in your heart and mind, God would tell you how to run your life. Then came the matter of putting right what was wrong, defined as restitution.

Jim had difficulty in believing that God really could talk to you through your mind. It was not until he was willing to try and experiment that he became convinced. In a time of quiet listening Jim was reminded about damage he had done to a company car years before. He had been driving drunk, had run into another vehicle, and had failed to stop. He had thought he had covered his tracks well by repairing the company car and taking the further precaution of getting the garage attendant to say that he had not had the car out. However, someone had taken his number at the scene of accident and there was an investigation. All the same, Jim's story held up. Ten years had passed and not once during that time had he thought about the incident. The fact that God seemed to have taken the time to remind Jim of this matter during his first quiet time, made him a real believer in the Oxford Group's axion, "When man listens, God speaks."

Now this part of the program was not easy for Jim as his mind became flooded with the many misdeeds of his past. There was another issue he had forgotten about. God reminded him of the time back in 1918 when he was 12 years old and worked for a retail electrical store. The pay was a nickel and hour. He worked 10 hours a day and received 50 cents for a day's effort. Working six days a week, he earned all of three dollars. He was fresh off the farm, where the family had only kerosene lights and horse and buggy travel, so Jim was fascinated by the possibilities of increasing the use of electricity around his new home. With an income of $3 a week, the prospects looked dim indeed, so he resorted to what he thought was "the next best thing" - he stole the materials. Now 16 years later God was telling him to make restitution for the theft.

With the years had come changes. Both the former store owner and Jim were now Elders on the same Methodist church board. But God had spoken, and Jim set out on his new venture of restitution. The store owner just could not believe what Jim was telling him. He had never in his life been confronted with this deep kind of honesty. He told Jim that he could not accept the money, that he would have to give it to the church, and so on. Jim told him that was his problem. Touched byt Jim's honesty the store owner asked to have coffee with him. He told Jim that his extreme sense of honesty had touched him very deeply, and he felt he should share something with him. Jim learned that his friend's marriage was on the rocks - that he and his wife were on the verge of divorce - that he had not been faithful to her - the papers were drawn up and he did not see any way out. He told Jim that the concept of absolute honesty had given him a new idea and he was going home to be absolutely honest with his wife about his life, to make restitution and see if they could make a completely new start together.

Jim soon learned that his friend had done what he had said and that his act of guided restitution had saved a marriage. All of this happened in Jim's life within two weeks of his own change. What a revelation!! And all because of his obedience to God and his guidance. Jim learned early that the secret of guidance is obedience. This was a lesson worth learning when he condsidered the alternative. It was also the initiative that set him on the road of life-changing, bringing new life to the many individuals he has touched over the years.

At the age of 94 Jim is of the firm conviction that if you want a new world you have to build it with changed people. As he puts it, "You cannot make a good omelet with bad eggs."

Bringing Ethics Into the Classroom - The Four Way Test

Much has been said and written about the Littleton, Colorado tragedy. Many solutions have been offered, including, smaller schools, uniform dress, metal detectors, armed guards, more supervision by parents and school staff, etc., etc....

People are looking for a quick, easy, "push-button" solution. The very nature of the problem defies this. Littleton did not happen over night. School violence is not simply a product of the media, movies or T.V. shows. Neither is it confined to certain isolated sections of our nation. It goes much deeper and broader than this. We are only viewing some outcroppings of the problem.

What we are confronted with now is the result of years and years of moral and spiritual deterioration. There is finger-pointing at parents and teachers for inadequate supervision. There is no one person, or group of persons to blame. We are all victims of this moral and spiritual stagnation. How else can one explain the support given to our President, in view of his escapades in the highest office of our land?

Diagnosis is one thing, but the cure may be quite different. It will be painful. It will mean change. Everyone wants to see the other fellow change. Every nation wants to see the other nation change. But, every person and nation is waiting for the other to begin. It we want answers in today’s world, we need to start with ourselves.

Very well, if this means we have to change, where do we start? At the beginning would be a good place. This country was founded on a firm belief in GOD. It is the only basis on which it can exist.

The nation needs a moral and spiritual revival. To many, this smacks of religious fundamentalism. Not at all - it simply means that we need to establish some fundamental values in our lives. What values? For starters, we might look at those described by Robert Speer in the 1920's - the four absolutes on Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness and Love. We can use these standards to evaluate everything we think, say or do. We ask God to show us where our life does not measure up. We write down the thoughts we get and we act on those that pass the test. We make corrections in our lives where necessary, including restitution. We share our thoughts with others who are doing the same thing.

It’s not going to work if only a few of us do this. That is the problem - we need to take action together. A pattern will soon emerge. The decline has been long - recovery will not come overnight. The longest journey starts with the first step.

We need to find answers. A stream cannot raise higher that its source, neither can we give away something we do not have. We must incorporate the four standards into our lives. WE need to take time to meditate every day because each new day brings problems that require Divine guidance. We can be builders of a New World order

Allow me to quote from a letter received by the family of a soldier during the Second World War, shortly before he was killed in action:

"Suppose, we as a nation, find again the faith in God our fathers knew! Suppose our homes become again the nation’s strength, our schools the centers of true learning and good citizenship, our farms and factories the patter of unity, integrity and national service. Suppose our statesmen learn again to listen to the voice of God. Then we shall know once more the greatness of the nation whose strength is in the spirit of her people."

Submitted to the Baltimore Sun Times Newspaper

Written by James H., Timonium, MD (93 years old; Oxford Group member since 1934; lecturer on the spiritual roots of the 12-step programs; a Rotarian for more than 50 years; in 1995, helped develop an ethics program for elementary school children.)

James will be the Keynote Speaker at the "Back to Basics Spiritual Revival" to be held on June 25-26, 1999 at the Desert Valley Seventh Day Adventist Church. The Friday and Saturday evening sessions are from 7:00 - 9:30 P.M., and the Saturday afternoon session is from 2:00 - 4:30 P.M. For more information contact John Hutzler at 743-0572, Faustinas Cherry at 990-7206 or Dwight Withers at 990-9095.

Rotarians honor member for inspiration he lends

BY SEANA KELLY-COFFIN

James H. Sr. is not fascinating simply because he’s 94.

A charismatic character who defies all the tired assumptions of someone who is nearing the century mark, H. is lively, passionate and driven.

And the Lutherville resident believes he still has much to do to help people live loving and fulfilling lives.

Consequently, he can often be found behind the wheel of a car or seated on an airplane, on his way to speak at conferences around the country.

That calling has been his Matra since December 12, 1934, when he joined the Oxford Group - an organization that was the foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous.

"The originator of the Oxford Group was interested in bringing change," said H., a friendly and funny man who admits he began drinking alcohol at age 5. "He had a program to change the world. But you had to change yourself first. You can’t give away something you never had.

"He wanted you to apply yourself for someone else’s need."

And that’s what Jim has been doing since that momentous weekend at the Frederick, Md., YMCA during the height of the Great Depression.

Because he still remains committed to the ideals and values of the Oxford Group, Jim broadened his horizons and his means of service as a Rotary member over the last 52 years.

The service projects he has championed as a member of the Towson chapter and currently with the Hunt Valley group earned him the coveted "Rotary Service Above Self" award last month. He was one of only 150 Rotarians worldwide to be cited.

According to Nigel Howse, president of the Hunt Valley chapter who nominated Jim for the award, there are 1.2 million members in 29,000 clubs around the world.

Howse said he nominated Jim because he was surprised the 94 year old "superman" hadn’t received it before.

"I was determined he should be honored," said Howse, a British emigre now living in Cockeysville. "He deserves it. He’s and incredible man. He’s very unusual."

Indeed, the father of three is that and more.

The first thing Jim did after becoming sober was to begin anew with a wife - who many thought would leave him before they celebrated their first anniversary. But he and Betty had been married 57 years when she passed away a few years ago.

The next thing he did was confess to his former boss, who owned an electrical supply store from which he had stolen supplies for a number of years. Jim wanted to pay restitution, one of the four standards the Oxford Group enacted to encourage members to take responsibility for the transgressions they committed.

Jim’s confession surprised his old boss so much that the store owner confided that he and his wife were on the verge of divorce because of his infidelities.

However, Jim’s confession encouraged the man to begin an honest dialogue with his wife, which saved the marriage.

"Something new is born every time this happens," said Jim, who is a grandfather to nine and great-grandfather to 16. "It’s a new type of fellowship. The Oxford Group takes you into other’s lives. These are the avenues that we need to take to meet their real needs - their moral and spiritual needs."

Wanting to share this communal philosophy encouraged him to join the International Rotary. His favorite role as a Rotarian has been introducing the Four-Way Test to students. The test asks student to contemplate four standards similar to the Oxford edicts.

"Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"

Participants are asked to answer to the questions in different ways. Kindergartners compete in a coloring contest, elementary school students are required to draw posters, middle school students write essays and high school students give speeches. Everyone who attempts the task is rewarded and best overall prizes overall are given.

Jim’s leadership in the Four-Way Test is a hint of all that he has pursued as a Rotarian.

Howse recalled a recent cool morning when chapter members were asked to go the McCormick Road to clean up litter in coordination with the "Adopt-a-Road Program."

One of the first people to arrive was Jim.

"The man is a living example of how you should live you life and how to help the community," Howse said. "He is really totally committed."

The award was a surprise to Jim. Howse drove. Jim and his 84-year-old girlfriend to the banquet, held on board the Bay Lady as it cruised the Inner Harbor.

Jim though he was invited to give a presentation on the Four-Way Test, which he made. But soon after his short speech, he was enthralled when the award was announced and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

"Jim was absolutely over the moon," Howse said. "When he sat down, he kept looking at the plaque. He was overwhelmed.

"You just don’t realize how many people he has helped along the way."

Jim is a sought after speaker at seminars for recovering alcoholics. He said he aims to help his peers do more than just remain sober - he wants to encourage them to give to others as he has learned to do.

For the next few months, he has speaking engagements scheduled around the country.

"You have to give as much of yourself to meet the need of the other person," he said. "For me, this was the life-changing formula: You have to gain someone’s confidence, then you have to offer your confession which brings conviction, then you can help people to change."

E-mail Seanna-Kelly Coffin at scoffin@patuxent.com.


BARRIERS TO BRIDGES

On April 16,17 & 18, 1999, Wally P. and James H. presented Barriers to Bridges - Changing the World One Life at a Time at the Wilson House in East Dorset, VT. Just as his book, Back to Basics - The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Meetings is a return to the spiritual roots of A.A., Wally P’s forthcoming book, How to Listen to God is a return to the spiritual roots of the Oxford Group.

Participants completed the Oxford Groups Four Spiritual Principles of Surrender (Steps 1,2, & 3), Sharing (Steps 4,5,6, & 7), Restitution (Steps 8 & 9) and Guidance (Steps 10,11 & 12). Each person in attendance practiced two way prayer and shared their guidance from God. This was most certainly a life changing event.

Barriers to Bridges was the re-enactment of an Oxford Group Houseparty. The meetings were hosted by James H., who has been an Oxford Group member for 65 years. His sobriety date in the Oxford group is 12/12/34, the day after Bill Wilson checked into Towns Hospital.

Jimmy Budd, one of the attendees at the Wilson House, had this to say about James H.:

"James is 94 years old. We must preserve his story for the millions yet to come. In reality, he is the 'elder of the tribe'."

"In the past three years alone, tens of thousands of lives have been changed as the result of Back to Basics. He is the person who started it all."

   
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