HI. I'M MEMBER OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS: AA has helped keep alcoholics sober since the group held its first Calgary meeting in 1945

The 17-year-old stood back but within earshot of his mother who was conferring with two strangers on a downtown street corner -- a minister and a businessman.

``I remember it so vividly because it was such an important part of my life.''

The teen had done his duty by escorting his mother downtown to Central United Church at 8th Ave and 1st St. S. W. to meet the men. ``In those days a woman didn't go downtown after 6 p.m. alone.''

This Tuesday -- 50 years later -- hundreds will celebrate the result of that encounter.

The three adults were arranging the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Calgary, held Oct. 17, 1945 at the home of the businessman's mother at 821 18th Ave. S.W.

AA's tradition of anonymity is a vital part of its program. Therefore neither AA members or those whose identity would identify AA members are named in this story.

The 17-year-old was Fred. R., who 33 years later joined AA. His first meeting was in the basement of Central United. Today he has been sober for 16 years.

His mother, Margaret, was married to Harry R. a binge drinker.``The best dad a boy could have when he was sober and by his own admission a horrible obnoxious drunk,'' Fred recalls.

The minister was Rev. C. Andrew Lawson, of Central United, who became a champion of AA in its early days in Calgary.

The businessman was Jack J., whose love for his alcoholic brother Bill fired his determination to find a solution to the brother's self-destructive drinking. Jack dedicated himself to finding an answer to this ``horror of horrors called alcoholism.''

Ten years earlier a doctor in Akron, Ohio, and a stockbroker in New York, both alcoholics, had started Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA was working where doctors, psychiatrists, clergy and other helping professions had failed. Seemingly hopeless alcoholics were sobering up and staying sober, recalls Ken H., chairman of the 50th anniversary committee.

Jack sent for the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the Big Book. It was based on the experiences of the first hundred or so members.

Jack's brother read the book. ``Until he had read those accounts he was certain that there was not another soul in the world who understood what he had been going through,'' Jack recalls.

Jack discovered the secret of AA's success -- one alcoholic helping another. ``The transmission line of understanding which only one alcoholic can build into another.''

Jack set out to find another alcoholic for his brother to help. He found lots of alcoholics but none who were interested in quitting drinking.

Rev. Lawson helped make the connection. Margaret R. had told the minister about her husband, Harry R. That lead to the meeting on the street corner.

Harry R. embraced the AA concept and his zeal ensured AA's foothold in Calgary. Jack J. continued to play a key role in the early years, acting as secretary. He retired to Victoria in 1976 but is returning this week for the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Today, AA's contributions are widely recognized by those in the alcoholism treatment field. ``Our experience has taught us in over 40 years that the best support and hope for continued recovery is connecting people to AA. They can walk with them through a lifelong recovery,'' says Brian Kearns, executive director of program services for the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. ``The coming of AA to Alberta is probably the singularly most important event for alcoholics.''

The first AA meetings in Calgary were held in members' homes but AA quickly outgrew that and meetings moved to clubrooms such as the Harris Skyroom, Garnet Block and Chapter House, all downtown.

Six months after the first AA meeting the first woman member joined. Marj K. of Claresholm came in March 1946.

Marj was in and out of AA and died a few years later. Then Mary C. joined, eventually spearheading a women's group. ``She was a powerhouse for them, a real anchor,'' Jack J. says.

While Fred sat doing homework at his kitchen table, he was able to watch AA grow as his father hosted AA meetings in their home.

Fred had his doubts about AA and his dad's sobriety, as his father had unsuccessfully tried a number of ways to quit drinking.

``I thought I was helping mom set up another failure and another heartbreak for everyone involved. AA turned out to be his salvation.'' His father was the first member to have 21 years sobriety. Harry died in 1974.

Harry never talked to his son Fred about drinking. ``His direction to me was always to be a man. Drinking was more or less a manly thing to do.''

Fred says his story is typical of many alcoholics. At first he drank because his friends did. But eventually a craving and obsession set in, he says.

``I drank because I didn't like how I felt sober. I drank to change how I felt. At first I had limited success.''

He says alcoholics can't accept the reality of the people, conditions and situations around them so they drink to change that reality.

Fred's drinking eventually got him into trouble at work and he knew he couldn't go on.

Sobriety didn't come easily. Fred went into a treatment program and then AA. ``I know AA works if you want to quit drinking but not if you just want to control it.''

Dorothy H. also drank to escape reality. Now 47, she has had 20 years sobriety.

``I drank to get drunk . . . because reality was too hard. My first drink was after I was stood up for a dance at the age of 15.''

The more she drank the worse she felt. ``Six years before I came (to AA) I gave up a child for adoption. That added to all the negativity I had about myself.''

The only thing that mattered was her job. ``It was what afforded me to be able to drink. I was on a downhill slide.''

She eventually stopped drinking but though she was sober she was miserable.

``I thought I could quit drinking and everything would be okay. It wasn't. I came home one day and knew I had to call AA.

Her first meeting was a women's group.``I disliked myself so much I couldn't handle relating to other women.''

She went to a mixed meeting. ``The greeter had the nicest smile and clearest eyes I had seen in a long time. I was scared, anxious and afraid it wouldn't work. I had tried other things such as counselling, changing my drinking habits, therapy.'' Eventually AA worked. ``AA gave me directions on how to live, not so much on how to stop drinking.''

Even after 20 years, Dorothy still goes to meetings. ``I go to give back (to other newcomers) what I got and to be reminded what it used to be like.''

Theo R. learned the hard way about what happens when alcoholics stop going to meetings. Today Theo has 23 years sobriety. She would have 40 if she hadn't gone back drinking after 12 years of sobriety in AA.

``It was my ego. I thought I could handle everything but I hadn't done anything about (helping) myself,'' she said. ``I did a lot of work with others (to help them stop drinking and work the AA program) but not on myself.

She spent five years in and out of hospital, being seen by psychiatrists, including one who ``wanted to lock me up and throw away the key.'' Theo came back to AA to stay.

Forty years ago, Jack Q. came into AA and stayed. Two strengths of AA stand out for him.

``The stigma that was originally attached to AA not only is no longer there but, in fact, the integrity of the program and its membership is such that they get strong support in this city.''

The second is how much AA members care about each other. Twenty-five years ago Jack was seriously ill with a respiratory ailment. He was in an oxygen tent and could only be seen by family.

More than 50 AA members came to the hospital with cards, flowers or just to ask how he was.

``The word had got out that Jack was sick. All it said to me was this is the last time I ever had to feel alone or abandoned. . . . There is a whole body of people who love this program and are there for us.''