On August 12th Frank M. (Traditions) became the fourth member of the group of Memphis AA's with over 50 years of sobriety – joining Bill D. (62 years - Came to Believe), Colin R (52 years - Came to Believe), and Syl D. (52 years - Bluff City )
Frank is a vibrant, warm, sharp-witted renaissance man who has reinvented himself numerous times throughout a rich lifetime – who only retired in the last few years (at the age of 85) from his last career as a full professor (Emeritus) of marketing management at Christian Brothers University.
Frank's intellectual bent has apparently not interfered with his recovery too substantially (although he does enjoy taking copious notes in meetings and rumor has it the he has boxes of these notebooks stashed somewhere). A certain Traditions Group meeting Chairman (Joe) would invariably call on Frank early, ribbing him that he needed to share before his notebook got too full.
Frank was born in 1928 in Miles City, Montana. His mother was an identical twin. His grandfather was a well-known entrepreneur who built the Miles City Steam Laundry (now on the U.S. Historic Register). Frank remembers his mother referring to the town drunk, who spent the better part of his days aimlessly pulling a seventy-five foot rope up and-down-the street, as a “dipsomaniac.”
The family moved to Rapid City, SD while Frank was in high school. He graduated in just three years and then entered University of Colorado when only sixteen to study Chemical Engineering.
Already prone to depression and social anxiety, deepened by the social scene in college, Frank was quick to discover at a frat house beer party that alcohol seemed to solve these problems. Despite being terribly sick and hung over after an initial bender that lasted all afternoon, Frank was predictably undeterred and the drinking quickly progressed to heavy levels. Suffering from increasingly severe emotional problems, exacerbated by both alcohol and his father's death, Frank dropped out after two years.
Now back in Rapid City, Frank sold cars and continued to drink heavily (not necessarily in that order). He tells a funny story about selling a car to a prominent Sioux Indian chief who was less-than-pleased that his recently purchased machine managed to burn 18 quarts of oil on just a short trip. Rather than giving him his money back, Frank taught him how to disassemble practically the entire engine in order to fix the problem. He was lauded as a genius at that car lot ever since.
Two soldiers charged with reestablishing the Army's 109th reserve engineering combat battalion in Black Hills, SD convinced Frank to join up with the promise of soft reserve duty, a monthly cash paycheck, some camping fun in the summertime, and the issuance of a prized rifle. He got that . . . and much more – a ticket to Ft Bragg two years later to train for active duty in the Korean War.
Frank was a fast learner and hard worker who had already been quickly promoted in the reserves to tech sergeant from buck private. While in North Carolina, he would study at night for correspondence courses – something not generally done by enlisted personnel. The base colonel noted this and promoted Frank to the highest ranking sergeant in the entire battalion, a position normally requiring 15 years of duty.
A significant honor was bestowed on Frank in 1950 when he was not only invited to join the first Engineer Officer's Candidate School class since World War II but also selected for its prestigious combat engineering program. Frank then served in a combat zone in Korea, building small gravel airstrips for reconnaissance planes near the front.
Frank received a promotion and came home from Korea as a First Lieutenant. True to form, he quickly launched into a study program – this time using the GI Bill to graduate with a Chemical Engineering degree from the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology.
Soon thereafter, Trane Corporation hired Frank as a sales engineer. Back then, its air conditioners were considered to be a high technology product with an attendant complex selling process. After a few years, Frank was hired away by Worthington's air conditioner division and moved to Pittsburgh.
The unlimited expense accounts bestowed to him by these firms became problematic, in that Frank deployed them in large part to do copious amounts of boozing with clients (and alone) while on the road. While the drinking had been held in some check by the former military and school environments, it now went “off the pasture” resulting in horrific hangovers and vomiting spells, among other ills. Frank become increasingly isolated from his family. He remembers his wife keeping a large stash of cigars in the refrigerator so that Frank would theoretically not have to leave to buy them himself . . . which invariably resulted in his coming home drunk hours later. This ploy did not prove effective in keeping Frank away from the bottle.
In Pittsburgh on August 12,1967, after Frank came home stupefied yet again, his wife demanded that he call AA. To get her “off my back,” Frank did just that – and he never drank again. After listening to his story, the AA who was assigned the twelfth step job told him succinctly: “I think we have a mutual problem.” This man, who became Frank's sponsor, had been a Colonel in WWII who lost so many jobs thereafter that he had to work as a spike driver (gandy dancer) on the railroad before sobering up. He was now a top executive with the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce who had been sober 14 years.
Frank has fond memories of Pittsburgh-style AA, which has its roots in the Akron-Cleveland approach. There was a strong sense of being “one of the guys,” which Frank thinks sprang from Pittsburgh’s drinking culture where professionals and blue collar workers would belly up to the bar side-by-side. Hallmarks of Pittsburgh AA at the time were friendliness, closeness, and inclusion of families. Sweets were even ”served” to the drunks during the meetings. There were regular calls to do twelfth step work. The focus on the newcomer was “intense.” Alanon was big there, too, with a bevy of social functions held by Alanons in their homes.
Frank moved to Cleveland, “quickly picking up an MBA” at Baldwin-Wallace College. His memories of Cleveland AA are as fond as those of Pittsburgh. As is still the case there and in many other northern cities, speaker meetings were popular. Frank recalls groups sending postcards out to nearby groups with the names of the upcoming speakers. He also recalls an interesting custom of the Chairperson soliciting audience critiques after the talk. “The comments could be pretty rough if the speaker was full of himself. And a Shaker Heights guy coming to a working class area might really get it as well.” Like Pittsburgh, there was intense focus on the newcomer.
Frank particularly liked attending “home meetings” on the east side of Cleveland where Greek, Slav, or Italian hosts would serve ethnic cuisine on nice china before, during, and up to one hour after the meeting.
With sobriety, Frank became an even more sought after industrial products salesman, working a succession of high level jobs in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Memphis. One of these companies specialized in selling the critical environmental control systems that cooled the new wave of mainframe computers being sold at that time by IBM, Honeywell, Sperry Rand, Control Data, and Burroughs. These room-sized behemoths were programmed via punch card and backed up with magnetic tape. Accruing to Frank's benefit was the fact that they got extremely hot.
Almost sixty years old and seemingly giving no thought to slowing down or retiring, Frank changed tacks and ventured into academia after being accepted by seven doctoral business administration programs. He chose the University of Memphis, receiving his PhD in 1990. He then launched into a 23-year teaching career at Christian Brothers, where he is now a professor emeritus.
Frank noted a few areas in which 1990's Memphis AA differed from the variety practiced up north. Meetings here leaned toward discussion as opposed to the speaker format; the occasional speaker meetings that Memphis did have in the 1990s were typically not eating meetings (this came later). Northern meetings had more “leads,” which is a hybrid speaker/discussion format in which the talk (the lead) is only about twenty minutes and then the meeting opens up for sharing along the lines of the talk. The Lord's Prayer is not used as much up north. Lastly, Frank reports that speakers up north were issued an appreciation card signed by the Chairman. He has a slew of them – one of which he has generously denoted to MAAC and is now a staple of our traveling collection.
Frank offers the following suggestions for newcomers: Spend as much time as possible with the older guys, hang close to your sponsor, don't hesitate to call other AA's frequently, realize that mutual contact is critical, trust the older guys' judgment, live one day at a time, join a home group, pick one actually near your home, and go to at least five meetings per week.
Even old timers should go to at least two meetings per week. A sponsor told Frank that two is the minimum because if it is just one, then missing that meeting could mean being without AA for two whole weeks. Making meetings is “absolutely critical” and to stop going is like “walking on death row.”
Frank describes his willingness in early sobriety as follows: ”I will make it like I have to cross a desert to get water”
From the start, Frank immensely enjoyed the camaraderie within AA and exhibited much enthusiasm for the program. So much so that the aforementioned Pittsburgh sponsor felt compelled to tell him: “Frank, just because you have been sober for a few months doesn't mean that you need to go running down the street telling everyone you are in AA.” Frank protested: “But why – these AA's are tremendous . . . they are men of steel.” The sponsor then retorted acerbically: “We have a good thing going here, Frank, I don't want you screwing it up.”