This series of talks came about from a friendship that started in Alcoholics Anonymous over 30 years ago. When AA members talk about the program, they will often speak the names Bill and Bob. However, there are two other names that are often spoken about, with nearly equal reverence. These names are Joe McQuany, and Charlie Parmley, a team of two men known as “Joe and Charlie”, who met in 1973, and spent the next three decades spreading their interpretation of the Big Book.
These two men are credited with making the Big Book of AA more accessible to many who otherwise found the language archaic, or just downright confusing.
In 1978, Joe McQuany launched the Kelly Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to recovery from alcoholism and addiction. In 2011, Larry Gaines, the CEO of the Kelly Foundation said “People often say that it took Bill and Bob to write the Big Book, but it took Joe and Charlie to explain it”.
According to Larry Gaines, the unlikely partnership of Joe and Charlie was the result of Joe’s unstable beginnings in Alcoholics Anonymous. Joe had been studying the Big Book since 1962, but since he was an African-American man living in Little Rock, Arkansas during that time, he was only allowed to stand in the back of meetings, and leave as soon as they were over. He wasn’t allowed to participate in the fellowship, so he got into the book. After a few years, someone told him about another man who was equally enthusiastic about the Big Book; Charlie. The two men began to study the book together, and over time, other members of AA began to get wind of what they were doing. Someone started taping them, and by 1974, the tapes started to spread throughout the fellowship.
Gaines believes that the clarity of Joe and Charlie’s message is what has helped the “Big Book Comes Alive” recordings so popular. Gaines said “When Joe and Charlie began teaching the book, it started getting people back into the heart of AA. The were able to so beautifully teach people the difference between the program and the fellowship.”
According to Billy DeLuca, Joe’s former secretary and CFO for Serenity Park, a rehab center in Little Rock founded by Joe – “The true legacy of Joe and Charlie’s conversations was the actual understanding of the steps. For them, it was about putting aside personalities, and bringing the principles of AA to the forefront. They broke the 12 steps down in a way that people could understand, thus helping them practice those principles in all of their affairs. They viewed the Big Book as a treatment model.”
It doesn’t hurt that Joe and Charlie are incredibly amusing, cracking jokes about all sorts of different topics. Another AA member was quoted as saying “They have this folksy charm that helps the medicine go down, which has always been what I love about Alcoholics Anonymous. We can talk about these serious matters, and still laugh at ourselves.”
Although Joe and Charlie are no longer with us, their talks continue to inform and inspire AA members, and will do so well into the future. We are eternally grateful for what these men have done for us personally, and for what they’ve done for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA states that its primary purpose is “to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. With other early members Wilson and Smith developed AA’s Twelve Step program of spiritual and character development. AA’s Twelve Traditions introduced in 1946 to help be stable and unified while disengaged from “outside issues” and influences. The Traditions recommend that members and groups remain anonymous in public media,