At the time of his passing a month ago, I believe Ronnie to be the most tenured member of Alcoholics Anonymous in Utah. My memory is partial and probably not exact but I believe he joined Alcoholics Anonymous in about 1947, and fully committed in 1952. My father joined in 1948 in the same city of Midvale Utah. Ronnie’s wife Marjorie worked close to my shop and I was familiar with her charm and her immaculate vintage 1953 Chevrolet. Ronnie made sure the car was always perfect. She parked behind my shop in the gravel parking lot. Ronnie grew up on a farm. His story is that after he lost his driver’s license he would still drive to the Midvale liquor agency in his tractor and buy quarts of liquor – He claimed he quit drinking before they had fifths – a story I cannot confirm. He was easy-going, affable, and a great storyteller.
After a few years of my own personal tenure in AA, I became interested in the organizations history and how the organization grew.. up in Utah. Ronnie had wonderful stories and was willing to talk. AA was much different then. It didn’t rely so much on the book as it did the fellowship. 12 stepping was prominent as treatment centers were rare. Ronnie, Marjorie, my mother and father would often venture to Provo on Friday nights for Chinese dinner and an AA meeting held at the Protestant church in the center of town. Ronnie knew my dad well, and told stories from a point of view that I’d never heard. My respect for both of these men is long and deep as they genuinely loved each other. After 15 years my father started drinking again. Ronnie put no shame on the slip, Of course he called it what it was, a return to insanity and a tragic mistake. Later my father quit again and remained sober the rest of his life.
At my father’s funeral, I was introduced to some old-time AA members that joined in the 40s and early 50s. As a history buff and one who likes first-hand accounts I pursued friendship with all of these men and one woman. Nobody was more interesting or free to tell stories like Ronnie. We had the added advantage that he lived just a half a mile from my shop. When he would visit, I would figuratively dust off the chair and make him as comfortable as possible and encourage him to spool out story after story. He was a goldmine of first-hand accounts of early AA in Utah.
Somewhere in the 1990s, Ronnie started taking his neighbor, an equally old man to a few AA meetings in attempt to help the neighbor get sober. Ronnie could’ve been a patriarch, but with a genuine humility he was one among his fellows – no better – no worse – tenure did not matter. The neighbor never took the bait, but as we have witnessed before, helping others is what keeps us sober. I took Ronnie to a few meetings, and wanted to show him off, but he demurred any stardom. He listened intently and loved what he saw and the direction AA had gone.
The last few years he was a bit fuzzy and his mind could hardly focus. My affection for him only grew despite the fact that the early stories of Utah AA and his sobriety were rarely talked about. He was focused on his love for his family and grandchildren. He would tear up every time he thought of his beloved Marjorie. He was a sentimental man with a big heart and the long history that he was anxious to tell. I am glad I knew him.