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Ebby Thacher


Edwin Throckmorton Thacher (29 April 1896–21 March 1966) (commonly known as Ebby Thacher or Ebby T.), was an old drinking friend and later the sponsor of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson. He is credited with introducing Wilson to the initial principles that AA would soon develop, such as “one alcoholic talking to another,” and the Jungian thesis which was passed along to Rowland H and, in turn, to Thacher that alcoholism could be cured by a “genuine conversion”.

Thacher was a schoolfriend of Wilson, and battled his whole life with alcoholism, frequently landing in mental hospitals or jail. After one bender, three members of The Oxford Group, Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, and Cebra Graves, convinced the court to parole Thacher into their custody. Hazard taught Thacher the Oxford Group principles and the idea that a conversion was needed between patients. Hazard lodged him in the Calvary Rescue Mission, operated by the Calvary Episcopal Church in New York.

Despite his failure to follow through after his vital visit with Bill, Ebby still seemed to feel he was not recognized adequately for his contribution to the start of AA. His employer for many years in Texas said that Ebby, “kind of thought the world owed him a living, to a certain extent. He thought he never got the recognition that he should. That was stuck in his craw for years.”

Another AA who had known Ebby in Texas said that, “Ebby held a deep resentment for Bill, Dr. Bob, and others, because he felt he was more the founder of what was to become AA than anyone else”. In the author’s opinion, this resentment may be the reason for his repeated “slips” in the program.

Ebby also had the idea that he needed the right woman and an ideal job in order to stay sober. The implication is that if he didn’t have the perfect woman and the perfect job, he couldn’t stay sober. And he didn’t stay sober. AA members know that sobriety has to be sought without any conditions, that we have to be “willing to go to any length to get it” and that “half measures availed us nothing.”

Some of Ebby’s own letters bring to mind Lois’s observation noted earlier, that Ebby seemed to be “around” AA, but never really “in” it. Typical correspondence from AA’s devotes substantial discussion to the AA Program and the application of the Steps to their own lives. Ebby’s letters avoid these topics and are significant for what they don’t say. In 1954, Bill wrote that Ebby now, “shows more signs of really joining AA than ever before.” The implication is that Ebby had shown less commitment to the AA program before then, but even at that time, there were still substantial doubts about his sincerity.

Earlier, in 1947, his sister-in-law received a letter from Ebby, and she wrote back suggesting that the answer to his problems was to devote himself to helping others and then continued,

    “But as I read your letter this thought is far from your mind and you are again concerned with the petty and material affairs of your surroundings and the bickerings and by-plays of your associates, with the thought still deep in your mind that you have been persecuted and discriminated against by others, while the real facts might well be that it is your own ego that is at fault.”

Ebby drifted in and out of sobriety, and in and out of AA, with many AA members trying to help him regain a more stable sobriety. The person who was ultimately successful was Searcy W., who had established a hospital for alcoholics in Texas. Early in 1953, Searcy had asked Bill what he would like to see happen in AA, and Bill said, “I would like for Ebby to have a chance to sober up in your clinic.” Several months later, it came to pass, and after a short slip in 1954, Ebby remained sober for seven years.

In 1961, Ebby’s girlfriend died and the next day Ebby got drunk. He apparently still believed that his sobriety was conditional on having the right woman, and now she was gone. Ebby moved back to New York and lived at several places for the next two years, one of which was at his brother Ken’s home in Delmar, a suburb of Albany. He had emphysema, the same disease that caused Bill’s death, and was in poor health, his weight having dropped from 170 to 122 pounds.

Ebby eventually came to Margaret and Micky McPike’s farm outside Ballston Spa, New York, in May, 1964 and it was under their loving care that he finished the final two years of his life, dying sober on March 21, 1966. While at McPike’s farm, he never even attempted to get something to drink although he never attended any AA meetings. Still, AA visitors were frequent and AA principles were in constant evidence, permeating the entire atmosphere at McPike’s. Dr. Bob said that the AA program boiled down to love and service and that was the essence of Margaret and Micky McPike, who helped more than four thousand persons to recover from alcoholism. Ebby was one of them.

AA’s agree that no matter what happens to them, the most important thing is to not pick up that first “sucker” drink. Once alcohol is placed in our bodies, the results are physically inevitable in the same way that once a dose of castor oil has been taken, all the mental will power in the world is of no avail. Our problem as alcoholics centers in our minds, in having an entire psychic change as a result of taking the actions set out exactly in the 12 Steps. It is said in the rooms, “If you do what we did, you’ll get what we got.” Ebby was unable, for whatever reasons, to put the AA program of action into his life on a regular basis.

All of his life, Ebby was overshadowed by the recognition and success of his father and grandfather and in his own generation, by the accomplishments and respect given to his older brothers. This may have developed in him a sense of “never good enough” so familiar to alcoholics. It is also likely that his privileged childhood accentuated the sense of self-importance and self-focus that the AA program requires us to deflate at depth.

If Ebby had been recognized as the founder of the AA program, it would have given him respect and recognition far surpassing anyone in his family. After Bill received the message of recovery from Ebby, he devoted the rest of his life to helping other alcoholics. If Ebby had been willing and able to take similar actions of love and service, he would have been a co-founder with Bill Wilson. But he would not, or could not, do the day-to-day work with others needed to bring AA into a concrete reality.

Rather than realistically looking at his own shortcomings in establishing AA, Ebby wallowed in resentments, the greatest obstacle to sobriety and the number one killer of alcoholics. Perhaps Bill was thinking of the example of his sponsor, Ebby, when he wrote the many strong statements in the Big Book condemning resentments. For whatever the reasons, Ebby never seemed to give himself completely to the simple program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

There are many others who achieve periods of sobriety yet relapse from time to time. They are not to be condemned, but welcomed back into the Fellowship. Their experience is a lesson to others that alcohol as an enemy is indeed cunning, baffling and powerful. If anyone might feel smug or superior, he or she should be grateful that they have not gotten that bad – yet.

If there is a Higher Power, then by implication there is a lower power. And the lower power can never win, unless we give up. Despite many slips, Ebby never gave in to the lower power and always came back. He ran the race; he kept the faith and died sober. Ebby deserves to be honored for carrying the message of spiritual recovery to Bill and for acting as his sponsor. Whatever his problems may have been with sobriety, Bill was always grateful to Ebby and so should all AA’s.

Bill said, in “The Language of the Heart”, “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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