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Jim H.: A living link to A.A.'s earliest days

Breakthroughs Newsletter Spring 2000
By Michael Henderson 

            The invitations state: “Meet James H., 93 years old who got sober on December 12, 1934.  Attended Oxford Group meetings with Bill Wilson.  He is our last living link to the writing of the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Hear his amazing story of how it all began and have fun witnessing his simple approach.  Your life will never be the same.” 

            From Michigan to Oregon, from Vermont to Texas, H., who dates his sobriety to one day after one of the co-founders of the Twelve-step movement, is in demand as a speaker.  He is asked to address the theme Back to Basics.  “This is a work to bring A.A. back to the concepts it had when it left the Oxford Group,” says H..  “It is basically aimed at bringing God and His guidance back into the life of individuals.  This is all new to most groups.”

            Fifty-two years ago H. joined Rotary to broaden his service to the community and has just been awarded Rotary's Service Above Self Award.  It is given to 150 Rotarians each year from an international membership of 1,200,000.  The award is given for his long years of service which includes being president of two clubs and single-handedly promoting the Rotary Four-Way Test in Baltimore schools: 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? 

H.'s local paper, The Towson Times, describes him as lively, passionate and driven, "a charismatic character who defies all the tired assumptions of someone who is nearing the century mark."  The paper describes what happened to him when he met the Oxford Group: "The first thing H. 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 to confess to his former boss, who owned an electrical supply store from which he had stolen supplies for a number of years.  H. wanted to pay restitution, one of the four Steps the Oxford Group enacted to encourage members to take responsibility for the transgressions they committed. 

"H. confession surprised his old boss so much that the store owner confided that he and his wife were on the verge of a divorce because of his infidelity.  However, H.'s confession encouraged the man to begin honest dialogue with his wife, which saved his marriage. 

" 'Something new is born every time this happens' said H., who is a grandfather to nine and a 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.' " 

            H. says he is quite taken aback by the response he has been getting, with people stopping him on the street, phoning him, and writing letters.  “I am not quite sure how to handle it, but you can be assured that I am not going to be taken from the central issue of changing lives.  I am just grateful that God is continuing to use me in the lives of others."

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