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Follow the Winners Boston Billy

Spiritually Transformed by Words of AA Love

This article was written by a former Rochester resident about Billy Lovett, a man who was very instrumental in many Rochester mens' sobriety. Billy was a vital, energetic and enthusiastic man who worked as a counselor at Guest House in the early- to mid-1980'ms.
"Boston Billy", AA Grapevine, October 2005.
Copyright ©2005 by the AA Grapevine, Inc.; permission requested to reprint.

I sobered up in a small, traditional AA group in Minnesota. The old-timers in that group gave me their respect when I had none for myself. I became their project for the winter, and they shared their sobriety freely. I was profoundly moved by their personalities, as well as their principles, and I wanted what they had. They put up a mirror so that I might better see my sorry state of being; then they gave me the courage to change, to begin to get honest with myself, and to clean house. Perhaps because I was overdue getting to AA, I was open to embracing its principles.

The presence and encouragement of these old-timers got me past a variety of fears that arose as I took on this changed way of living. One ill-defined but real fear persisted: that I might be the first person in the history of AA who really wanted to achieve sobriety but would fail anyway. The cause of the fear, I think, was that I came to AA without any spiritual background at all. In AA, I learned to pray by rote, using the Third and Seventh Step Prayers, and the Prayer of St. Francis. But I lacked confidence in what I was doing, and despite my best efforts, an authenticity was missing.

One of the group's old-timers was an outgoing New Englander named Billy who'd been sober about ten years. His story was dramatic, and the price he'd paid for his alcoholism was high. He had been known as Boston Billy, and his story was presented in the AA brochure "It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell". His tribulations had included five years in Attica State Prison, one year of which was in solitary confinement.

One cold night when I was particularly frightened and confused, Billy came up to me after the meeting, put his hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eye, and said, "John, God loves you, and so do I". I couldn't respond and he said no more. The effect on me was direct and powerful. From that time on, I was able to develop a dynamic and deep spiritual life in AA.

For ten years or so, I shared a lot of experiences with Billy. Then his work led him to return to New England, and mine took me to Florida. Over the next few years, the phone calls gradually fell off to nothing. Both of our lives were full and fruitful, and we just lost touch. On rare occasions, I would see mutual friends who let me know how Billy ws doing out East, but I never got around to calling him.

In late summer 2003, I developed a gnawing feeling that something was not right with my old friend. After some effort, I learned that Billy was seriously ill with cancer. I was able to reach him a day or so before his scheduled surgery. He told me that things didn't look good, but that he'd decided to give it his best shot and go ahead with a surgical treatment.

I told him I understood and I wished him well. Then I told him that there were two reasons I had called. First, I wanted to remind him that I was one of countless people in Minnesota who had not just been helped by him - we had experienced dramatic and profound changes in our lives because of what he had given us. I thanked him for that. THere was a pause and he said, "I don't know what to say, but I thank you".

Then I said, "Billy I want to return to you that which you gave me long ago. Now hear me well ... God loves you, and so do I." There was a very long silence. Then we both wept. Finally he said, "I can't tell you how much this means to me". After a pause, he said, "I'll call you and let you know how this all works out". That ended our conversation.

I knew I'd never receive that call and I didn't. Billy never awoke from anesthesia and died the day after surgery. I wept again at the loss of my old friend, but those tears were accompanied by an overwhelming gratitude that I'd been able to communicate directly with Billy in his time of great need. As I was spiritually transformed, all those years ago, by hearing Billy's words of AA love, I found myself moved as I communicated for the last time with my old friend - an example of the Promises coming true, for me and for him.

John M.
Titusville, Florida