The Twenty-Four Hours a Day book is pocket-sized, designed for both portability, and discretion. An editor’s note tells us only that, “This book was compiled by a member of the Group at Daytona Beach, Fla”. The author, Richmond Walker, sought neither profit, nor recognition, for his efforts. He assembled his devotional reader in keeping with the best of the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous, the desire to help others.
Each of the reader’s 365 pages is composed of an AA Thought for the Day, a Meditation for the Day, and a Prayer for the Day. The first portion “typically put forward a set of rhetorical questions designed to emphasize the difference between the alcoholic past and the sober present”. (Language of the Heart, Trysh Travis, p. 146) “These daily readings contain most of the material used in the booklet “For Drunks Only” and other AA literature; also some passages from the ‘Big Book’ Alcoholics Anonymous.” (Foreword, Twenty-Four Hours a Day)
For the meditations, “Rich drew heavily on a book he had discovered, God Calling by Two Listeners, which had been edited and published by A.J. Russell, one of the most famous Oxford Group authors. Several years earlier, Rich had been moved by Russell’s book For Sinners Only”. God Calling was taken from Protestant pietism to a more generic spirituality, at least in the eyes of Rich Walker. References to Jesus and the Christ were excised, replaced with his own concepts of a higher power. The well-educated Walker fancied himself as something of a Platonist, albeit a substantially more Christian-leaning one than was his intellectual forefather.
Short prayers supplemented what Walker saw as a dearth of devotions specific to AA members, seeking to increase their “conscious contact” via the eleventh step.
Oxford Roots and Pocket Notes
After being sober in the Oxford Group for more than two years, from 1939 to 1941, Richmond Walker returned to drinking. Although he achieved neither permanent sobriety, nor contentment, “Walker retained a great respect for the Group’s teachings; he practiced Quiet Time, reading and meditation with the Bible and the Group’s daily reader God Calling”. (Travis, p. 146)
In May, 1942, he joined the newly formed Boston Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, “never to drink again for the rest of his life”. (barefootsworld.net) Early Boston AA had absorbed a number of sober alcoholics from the disintegrating Jacoby Club. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Boston AA of that era had an “Emmanuel Movement” flavor.
When Walker began spending winters in Florida, he had the notes on his person that eventually became the Twenty-Four Hours a Day book. “He originally wrote the material on small cards which he carried in his pocket, to aid him in his own sobriety.”(barefottsworld.net) “In 1948, members of the AA groups in Daytona Beach, Fla., persuaded him to have his material printed in book form… Rich distributed them from his basement.” (Richmond Walker’s Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Glenn C.)
As demand for the immensely popular book spread across the country, the author/publisher was inundated with orders, to the point of being overwhelmed. Walker was shipping about 600 volumes per month, from his home publishing operation. When his book was offered to AA headquarters in New York, they refused. Whether this was a right choice or a wrong one, it has proven to have been an expensive one for AA. Mr. Walker’s book has sold approximately 9 million copies.
Richmond Walker is the second most popular AA author in total sales, second only to Bill Wilson.
The venerable AA historian, Ernest Kurtz in describing the AA of the 1950s, writes of Mr. Walker’s fashionable reader: “Twenty-Four Hours a Day is a black-bound, prayerbook sized manual in perhaps greater use among members of AA than Alcoholics Anonymous itself”. (Not-God, Ernest Kurtz, p. 347, n. 13)
Friends of Presidents
At the time of his birth on August 2, 1892, his parents lived in a new house in Brookline, a fashionable Boston suburb. “Rich’s family were personal friends with presidents of the United States, like William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.” (Glenn C.) His grandfather had made his fortune in shoe manufacturing in Worcester, about 40 miles from Boston, and then had got elected to Congress.
Growing up, Rich played second fiddle to his older brother, Joe. As a result, “he misbehaved and rebelled to try to make his parents notice him”. (Glenn C.) When his younger sister, Dorothy died, his grieving parents became even more distant from the older boys. Rich “became convinced his parents neither loved nor cared for him at all”. (Glenn C.)
He was close only to Joe, whom he at the same time resented. His family he perceived as unloving, highly skilled in business and politics, but more concerned with status and acquisitions than their children. Rich was sent off to St. George’s, an elite boarding school in Newport, R.I. In one of life’s ironies, it is likely that Sam Shoemaker, 16 months his junior, was at some point, a fellow student.
A Cloak of Reserve
Moving on to Williams College, a prestigious university in Williamstown, Mass., Rich was an outstanding student, class president, captain of the football team, and president of his fraternity. Nevertheless, he felt like a failure, his achievements paling in comparison to Joe’s degree from Yale. As well, he was not close to anyone.
“Although well-respected, I did not make class friends. I was wrapped in a cloak of reserve; there was a wall between myself and other people… True love has always been a mystery to me. As a child I was not loved, and as a result, have never learned to truly love others. I was poorly adjusted to life, being self-contained, egocentric, immature, easily hurt, and overly sensitive.” (Open Meeting Lead, Rutland, Vt., 1958)
The Twenty-Four Hours a Day book for March 28th describes his typically alcoholic attitude – “I wanted my own way in everything.”
At first, Rich Walker’s drinking was controlled and moderate. In fact, he took a dim view of those who drank a lot. When his consumption escalated, “he was the son of the wealthy and prominent, and if he seemed to be drinking a tremendous amount, he and everyone else just put it down to youth”. (Glenn C.) In World War I, he was once more outdone by his brother, who was in the glamorous Marine Flying Corps, while Rich served honorably, but unspectacularly, in the Medical Corps.
The Corporate World
After the war, Joe persuaded him to join him in founding the Walker Top Company. Although Rich was not much interested in business, the young brothers had spectacular success while still in their twenties. Rich purchased an expensive home on Beacon Hill, and at 29, married Agnes. Not only had Rich’s drinking increased by this time, there is evidence of “very serious psychological problems of some sort by this point”. Although there was nothing about Agnes of which to be ashamed, he told none of his family members that they had gotten married until their first child was born. This was possibly the playing out of his deep-seated resentments regarding his childhood.
The young couple had three more children, but the father spend little time with either his offspring, or with his spouse. It was now the era of Prohibition, and Rich took many trips to the Caribbean, where nightclubbing was celebrated and open, rather than discreditable and clandestine. “I craved an artificial life of continuous excitement and a hyper kind of ‘good times’ filling every waking hour.” (Rutland Lead)
The Great Depression sufficiently affected the Walker Top Company that Rich and Agnes sold their Beacon Hill property, and moved to a more modest home in 1932. However, the belt-tightening brought on by tough economic times resulted in no de-escalation of drinking, and in 1935, when his 12 year-old daughter died of spinal meningitis, Rich plummeted to a new level of drinking and debilitation. He resigned his partnership, later returning to the company as an accounting clerk.
There was a drunk driving charge and several hospitalizations. His haunts were no longer the playgrounds of thirsty executives where smiling bartenders served premium brands, on polished oak bars. It was a new era of cheap dives and lower companions. Joining the Oxford Group in 1939 resulted in over two years of sobriety, albeit of the less than contented variety. The white-knuckling ended in an extended relapse in 1941.
Separated from his wife, and living in a small rented room, the onetime corporate golden boy lived a 9 month nightmare of frequent trips to the hospital when he drank, and DT’s when he didn’t. In May of 1942, when he was almost 50, Rich Walker found the newish Boston AA group of Paddy K. and some others. This lead to a sobriety that lasted for all of his remaining years.
The earliest copies of Twenty-Four Hours were run off “on the printing press at the county courthouse”. (barefootsworld.net) As awareness of the book spread, requests began coming in from all around the country. Thousands of copies were being sold annually, and the task of distribution rapidly became a daunting one for a man operating from his basement.
In 1953, Rich Walker very generously offered his book, gratis, to Alcoholics Anonymous, thinking they had a far greater capability of handling distribution and printing. “At the 1954 meeting the General Service Conference declined to adopt Walker’s book as a piece of Conference Approved Literature.” AA historian Glenn C. pointed to the demands on the Literature Committee involved in bringing the 12 + 12 to print. Kurtz mentions that the conference report expressed a fear of being flooded with similar requests, that acceptance of Walker’s offer might have “set a precedent”.
“An additional sticking point, however was the book’s explicit religiosity.” (Travis, p. 148)
Don’t Give Me That Old Time Religion
“Although the conference report of 1954 did not comment on the issue, Walker apparently received a personal letter stating as much. In an angry response to the chair of the Literature Committee, he expressed his indignation at New York’s squeamish secularism… For Walker, as for other AA traditionalists, the GSO’s denial of the importance of surrender was akin to the individual alcoholic’s denial of alcoholism…” (Travis, pp. 148-149)
Glenn C. has made the observation that there are flashes of the Emmanuel Movement’s New Thought mysticism scattered throughout the book. Walker’s nominal spirituality “is betrayed not only by regular paraphrases and quotes from the Bible, but also by its commitment to the pietist vision of surrendered masculinity that characterized Midwestern AA”. (Travis, p. 147)
It is interesting to note that those who sound the various alarms warning of a potential “watering down”, or secularization of AA, in the twenty-first century, bring us nothing new with their hysterical shrieking. After all, some substantial proportion of the venerated “First Hundred” had already been forced to tolerate the “weak tea” of “as we understood him”.
A mere two weeks after the “official” turn-down by General Service, the newish Hazelden organization agreed to print and distribute Walker’s book. It is not unreasonable to assume that talks with Hazelden had begun somewhat earlier. This was Hazelden’s first major foray into publishing, and it was a decision they would not regret.
AA rushed into publication its own countering volume, Daily Reflections, a mere 36 years later. This has diminished the sale of Walker’s more religious effort, as Daily Reflections has the additional enormous advantage of being Conference Approved Literature.
AA Thought for the Day
An appropriate closing lies in Walker’s own words, his January 1 – AA Thought for the Day.
When I came into AA, was I a desperate person? Did I have soul-sickness? Was I so sick of my way of living that I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror? Was I ready to try AA? Was I ready to try anything that would help to get me sober and to get over my soul-sickness? Should I forever forget the condition I was in?
Some of us would alter the wording somewhat, perhaps replacing “soul-sickness” with “existential angst”, but the feeling of demoralization is familiar, spanning a broad diversity of worldviews.
About the Author, Bob K
Bob K. lives in the Metropolitan Toronto area, and has been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 24 years, and an out-of-the-closet atheist for that entire time. He has been a regular contributor to the AAAgnostica website for almost 5 years, and in January, 2015, published “Key Players in AA History” In 2013, he cofounded the Whitby Freethinkers meeting.