On the Shoulders of Giants: 2021 Update

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If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.—Isaac Newton, 1675

One legacy of living a long life is that you experience the progressive loss of people who have influenced your life. These losses in the face of such sustained survival engender a mix of grief, survival guilt, and a renewed vow to carry forward the aspirations of one’s generation. I have earlier reflected on the need to honor recovery ancestors (See HERE) and the pioneers forging more humane drug policies and more effective addiction treatment and recovery support practices (See HERE). Today, I wish to honor some of the people we have lost these past two years, including many who stretched my mind, mentored my work, and showed me by their example how to conduct one’s life in this unique service ministry.    

Ozzie Williamson (Blackfeet, December 3, 2019) was a founding elder within the Native American Wellbriety movement. His sage words and passion for recovery helped launch White Bison’s early Hoop Journeys that carried hope and healing throughout Indian Country. I first met Ozzie Williamson at a Wellbriety conference many years ago. I still recall his words on the need for a vibrant recovery advocacy movement and his expressions of gratitude to Don Coyhis and I for our writings on the history of recovery in Native America. Other Wellbriety movement leaders we have lost in the last two years include Georgia Wettlin-Larson (Nakota), Nadra Gallagher (Klamath), Dennis His Gun (Ojibwa), Rev. Doyle Turner (White Earth), Terrence “Terry’ Tibbetts (Past Chairman White Earth), Donna Larsen (Lac Du Flambeau), and Dorothy Ackerman (Lakota).

Sally Brown (December 28, 2019) used her own recovery from alcoholism as a springboard for her service work as a chaplain and her research on the life of Mrs. Mary Mann, the driving force behind the “modern alcoholism movement.” Sally Brown and her husband David co-authored Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous. I warmly recall lunches with Sally and David while they were working on their book and the deep compassion Sally brought to her work with addicted veterans suffering from PTSD.

Rev. Gordon “Gordy” Grimm (Jarnuary 5, 2020), Rev. John Keller (December 21, 2020), and Damian McElrath (April 25, 2021) were the spiritual heart of what came to be known as the “Minnesota Model of Chemical Dependency Treatment.” Gordy first entered the alcoholism field as full-time chaplain at Willmar State Hospital after an internship that was part of his studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. He later became the first and long-serving chaplain at Hazelden and played an important role in elevating the role of spirituality within this new approach to alcoholism treatment. John also began his work in the field at Willmar and helped spread 12-Step treatment approaches across the United States in his roles at Willmar and at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois. He also served for many years on the faculty of Rutgers Summer School of Alcohol Studies.  Damian first entered the field through Hazelden’s one-year training program for clergy. He remained at Hazelden for more than four decades, serving in numerous roles. A historian and prolific author, his books include The Quiet Crusaders: The Untold Story Behind the Minnesota Model (2001), The Essence of Twelve Step Recovery: Take It to Heart (2008), and Hazelden: A Spiritual Odyssey.  Gordy, John, and Damian were invaluable resources when I was researching the birth and evolution of the Minnesota Model and its larger effects on the history of addiction treatment in the U.S. I have vivid memories of our many conversations but most importantly their graciousness, their passion for service, and their love for individuals and families seeking escape from addiction.

Mary Lee Fleming (March 21, 2020) served the recovery movement in many roles, including as the executive Director of the Hamilton County Community Mental Health Board in Cincinnati, Ohio and as Chief of Staff of SAMHSA. She was an ardent supporter of the Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (S.A.F.E.).   

Dr. Calvin Trent (March 28, 2020), through his leadership roles in Detroit’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, and the Detroit Recovery Project, was a leading advocate for recovery-focused systems transformation. Dr. Trent and his mentee, Andre Johnson, offered me considerable counsel on the needed refinement of recovery management and recovery-oriented systems of care within communities of color. Dr. Trent also provided consultations on the development of recovery support services in Africa. 

Dr. Eric Simon (March 30, 2020) is best known for his leadership of the laboratory at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and his discovery of opiate receptors in the brain. Dr. Simon coined the word Endorphin, opened a new world of research into the neurobiology of addiction, and provided key building blocks for the modern understanding of addiction as a brain disease. 

Dr. Thomas Kirk (April 9. 2020), in his role as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS), led the earliest large-scale recovery-focused systems transformation effort in the U.S. He helped mobilize recovery communities through his tireless support of the Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery and all of its subsequent contributions. Long after his retirement, Tom would call me with the opening line, “I’ve been thinking about an idea.” He was an indeed idea man but also a man of action with a profound empathy for people seeking and in recovery. He died from complications related to Covid-19.

Dr. Peter Greene (April 10, 2020) was a leading figure within the Washington DC Recovery Community Alliance. The Alliance created a Recovery Coaching Scholarship Fund in honor of Dr. Green’s contributions to the recovery advocacy movement. .

Terrence Gorski (July 3, 2020) and I both began our careers in the addictions field in the State of Illinois and went on to crisscross paths on the addiction counselor training circuit. Terry was a pioneer in developing and disseminating methods of relapse prevention. His work, along with that of Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, helped cast the field’s vision beyond acute treatment to the long-term processes of addiction recovery. Terry’s books include Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention (Gorski & Miller, 1986) and The Staying Sober Workbook (1992). I most remember the many private lunches with Terry and our animated conversations about what was unfolding in the field and how we could help shape the future of addiction treatment.

James Christopher (July 9, 2020) published “Sobriety without Superstition” in the summer 1985 issue of Free Inquiry. The encouraging responses he received to that article spurred him to found Secular Organizations for Sobriety–a secular alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. Jim was a tireless champion of secular pathways of recovery through his presentations and his authorship of three influential books: How to Stay Sober: Recovery without Religion (1988), Unhooked: Staying Sober and Drug-free (1989), and SOS Sobriety: The Proven Alternative to 12-step Programs (1992). After first consulting with Jim many years ago about the history of SOS, we talked once or twice a year—always about his favorite subject: secular recovery.  

Glenn Chesnut (July 27, 2020) was a historian who published several seminal works on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, including Heroes of Early Black AA. What I most remember about Glenn were the extended conversations we shared with Ernie Kurtz on religious and secular spirituality within 12-Step fellowships. It was a privilege to sit at the feet of these two noted historians and stunning intellects. Glenn also played an important role in the founding and ongoing development of the AA History Lovers group

Reverend Dr. Leon Finney Jr. (September 4, 2020) devoted his professional life to the revitalization of urban communities. The Woodlawn Organization, which he founded in 1961, opened one of the first detox facilities on the south side of Chicago. Reverend Finney was among a generation of faith leaders, including the Reverend Cecil Williams (now 92) and Father George Clements (November 25, 2019), who championed recovery-focused ministries and the role of the church in community revitalization.

Elizabeth Owens (September 19, 2020) was renowned for her work through VOCAL-NY and Harlem’s New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE), where she conducted her outreach ministry. She was a tireless advocate for people who use drugs and people affected by HIV, incarceration, and homelessness.

Clancy Imislund (August 24, 2020) was the long-serving managing director of L.A.’s Midnight Mission. A towering figure in the 12-Step recovery community, Clancy was known as the “Jonas Salk of recovery”—a reference to his ability to inoculate those suffering from addiction with a renewed sense of hope. Although sometimes criticized for his hardline approach, thousands benefited from his decades-long service ministry.

Representative Jim Ramstad (November 5, 2020) was a tireless champion for enlightened drug policies and expanded funding of mental health and addiction treatment services.  What I most remember about Congressman Ramstad was his standing with Sen. Paul Wellstone (October 25, 2002), both men in recovery, to address those of us attending the 2001 Recovery Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both men reached across the political isles to help mobilize people in recovery and expand pathways of entry into recovery.

Denise Eligan (November, 2020) is included here to recognize the many frontline addiction counselors who work a lifetime in the field and pass without the professional and public acknowledgement they deserve. Denise Eligan began her career as an addictions counselor at Hyde Park Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She dedicated years to counseling those seeking recovery from addiction, was a prolific author, and served as Editor of Recovered Magazine, one of the first recovery magazines in the U.S.

Dr. David Lewis (December 2, 2020) was the founder of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. He served as Editor of the journals Substance Abuse and the Brown University Digest of Addiction Theory and Application and served on the editorial boards of prominent scientific and trade journals within the field (e.g., American Journal on Addictions, Journal of Addictive Diseases, Journal of Maintenance in the Addictions). Dr. Lewis authored more than 400 addiction-related publications and played a prominent role on the modern history of addiction medicine. He also had a passion for history and led the creation of Chester B. Kirk Collection on Alcoholics Anonymous at Brown University. I have particularly fond memories of sitting with Ernie Kurtz at David’s dining room table helping to catalogue the papers of Dan Anderson that had just been donated to Brown University while David provided us with liberal supplies of coffee and encouragement. Dr. David Lewis is one of the people I have most admired and who has most influenced how I have tried to conduct myself professionally within the addictions field.

Dr. Kathleen Carroll (December 28, 2020),was the Albert E. Kent Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Director of Psychosocial Research, Division on Addictions. Dr. Carroll led more than 100 addiction-related research projects and published more than 330 peer-reviewed research articles. She spent her entire career working to improve the quality of addiction treatment.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski (January 31, 2021) was a man of many roles: esteemed rabbi, noted psychiatrist, founder of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, prolific author (more than 60 books), and a leading addictions educator. Rabbi Twerski played a particularly important role in heightening awareness of addiction to alcohol and other drugs within the Jewish community, and was the spiritual mentor to Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS). He died at a Jerusalem hospital from complications of Covid-19.

Pastor John Baker (February 23, 2021), in the aftermath of his own recovery from alcoholism and his ministry at Saddelback Church in California, founded Celebrate Recovery—a faith based recovery mutual aid fellowship that has spread to more than 35,000 churches in the United States. In spite of the overall decline in religious affiliation in the U.S., Celebrate Recovery is one of the fastest growing recovery mutual aid organizations. In my earlier writings, I have described “recovery carriers”—people who make recovery contagious through their love and service to others and the example of their own lives. John Baker was a passionate recovery carrier.

Dr. Edward Khantzian (March 21, 2021), professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was an influential figure in the field of addiction psychiatry. Dr, Khantzian’s seminal papers on addiction as a process of self-medication helped humanize the addiction experience. His writings were widely cited in the clinical literature on addiction and addiction treatment. I most recall our conversations about the etiology of addiction and the role of recovery mutual aid fellowships as a healing form of group therapy.

Dr. Mary Jean Kreek (March 27, 2021) was a true pioneer in addiction treatment, having collaborated with Dr. Vincent Dole and Dr. Marie Nyswander in the development of methadone maintenance in the 1960s. Dr. Kreek headed the Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Disease at The Rockefeller University, and conducted numerous studies on the pharmacological treatment of opioid addiction and the neurochemical and molecular roots of addiction. My most vivid memory of Dr. Kreek was the gracious and sustained support she offered Lisa Mojer-Torres and I when we were working on the monograph Recovery-Oriented Methadone Maintenance.

Glenn Jorgenson (July 23, 2021) founded River Park, South Dakota’s first private non-profit addiction treatment center. Like many of that era, his passion for service came from his own recovery from addiction. River Park offered services in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre. Glenn’s “It’s Great to be Alive” TV series  which featured prominent people who had recovered from addiction was a pioneering effort to destigmatize addiction, addiction treatment, and addiction recovery.  

Dr. Joseph Pursch (August, 2021) served as Director, Alcohol Rehabilitation Service, Naval Regional Medical Center, in Long Beach, California. He treated many prominent military leaders and civilians, including First Lady Mrs. Betty Ford. Dr. Pursch was a leader in the education of physicians specializing in the treatment of addiction.  

A grateful recovery nation thanks these individuals for their years of service. We will carry their legacies far into the future. Are there other pioneers we have lost in the last two years that you would add to this tribute list?