Socialite Couple Leading Fight Against Alcoholism

Times Staff Writer

Thomas P. Pike cast his eyes upward, as if in some wonderment, and admitted that his "magnificent obsession" to persuade the world that alcoholism is an authentic disease is not yet won.

"Alcoholism is a disease like catching a cold, diabetes, liver disease, cancer. It's a common disease that affects the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the religious and the layman. But society doesn't rate alcoholism with respectability. It's respectable to die of cancer or a heart attack, but not alcoholism. Alcoholism is (considered) a weakness of willpower, which is a societal myth."

Tom Pike and his Katherine--she's "got all the beauty and the brains in the family," he said--have been pillars of society in Los Angeles and Pasadena for nearly five decades. Both 75, they are currently on a Stanford trip to the South Seas, tracing the route of Capt. Cook.

But their true adventure has been the fight against booze, which grew out of his own battle with the bottle when he was a rising young businessman. Perhaps no two have worked so diligently, so continuously in the Southland against alcoholism. And possibly no two have had so much impact on the disease and set the stage for such progress.

They've given speeches by the hundreds, consulted with thousands, contributed more than $1 million. They've organized, humored, cajoled, lobbied.

For instance, Tom frequently stands before audiences and tells how he "was a poor drunken bum" until he found sobriety 38 years ago, how he had a cast-iron stomach, drank barrels of booze without getting sick, rushed pell-mell into alcohol, drank four bottles of champagne one night when he was 16, once drank 27 bottles of beer while in college and still could "walk, talk and navigate." But it was a time of "tee many martoonies."

He talks about how "my days with Katherine were numbered. I was AWOL for days, one time for 10 days, drinking. I sensed absolute disaster was at hand. Katherine never degraded me. I never became abusive. I was a happy drunk . . . but I was 15 years going downhill like a toboggan."

Then, he says, he found an organization that saved his life, a fellowship of alcoholic men and women who practice total abstinence and learn to live in a drinking society happily and productively. It's an organization that strongly suggests its member adhere to its anonymous precepts on the grounds that one should not take credit for one's own sobriety, that the power rests with someone greater than the alcoholic himself. Tom's last half-tumbler of Gordon's dry gin was Wednesday morning, Aug. 28, 1946. He was 37.

Tom already had become founder and president of the largest oil well-drilling contracting firm in California, the Thomas P. Pike Drilling Co., which he had begun in 1938. He had grown up in the oil well supply business, his father, Percy Mortimer Pike, founding the Tay-Pike Co., which later became the Pike family business, Republic Supply Co. of California.

Post-alcohol, he went on to even greater heights: chairman of the board, Republic Supply Co. and its successor, Pike Corp. of America, later merging it with Fluor Corp. and serving as vice chairman of the Fluor directors between 1969-80.

He became deputy assistant secretary of defense (1953-54), assistant secretary of defense (1954-56), followed by special assistant to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, California state chairman of the Richard M. Nixon campaign for presidency in 1960, a member of Gov. Ronald Reagan's campaign steering committee between 1966-70, president of the Stanford trustees in 1960, Loyola Marymount University trustee, a director of Hewlett-Packard Co. and a member of the board of the Rand Corp.

He also founded and remains honorary chairman of what is now the National Council on Alcoholism-Los Angeles County. Katherine was a founder of the Pasadena Council on Alcoholism (in 1949).

Together, since alcohol recovery is a family affair, they personally have helped hundreds, maybe thousands, find sobriety. With others, they've failed. Emergency calls come all hours of the day to their home and office. Those who have ever experienced their kindnesses know their devotion to their cause.

When Betty Ford committed herself for alcoholism, Dr. Joseph Pursch, director of the Long Beach Naval Hospital, called Tom and asked him to come down and talk to the former First Lady, and he asked Katherine to talk to the former President.

With their own wealth and that of the Pike Foundation, they have been generous. They have pledged $10,000 to the Weingart Center Skid Row Project. "You can't raise money unless you give," says Pike, and he currently is chairman of the committee that has raised $6.9 million of a $7.9-million goal for the alcohol rehabilitation center for homeless men.

But they also have given significantly to higher education projects with an emphasis on alcohol and also to Catholic secondary and higher education.

However, the largest gifts have gone to the Alcohol Clinic at Stanford Medical School and to UCLA, where they have endowed the Pike Chair on Alcohol Studies.

"To my knowledge, it is the only alcohol chair in the country--in the world," he says.

Unlike some donors, who hire public relations firms to seek fluorescence for their goodness, the Pikes don't ask for recognition. They, in fact, constantly picture themselves as simple activists among many.

But they are catalytic activists: They helped found Casa de las Amigas, a Pasadena recovery house for women.

What one has started, the other has finished. "There is no jealously as to who is No. 1 and No. 2, and there is no No. 1 and No. 2; we both complement each other," said Pike. For instance, Katherine, in the 1960s, was chairman of the Los Angeles County Commission on Alcoholism and between 1965-73 chairman of its legislation committee. Between 1963-69, she was an adviser to the State Department of Public Health, did the same for the Pasadena Health Department. She's served on criminal justice task forces on alcoholism and as a consultant on the county comprehensive alcoholism plan in 1972-73.

They were activists in 1970 when Reagan established the state Office of Alcoholism; Tom became the first chairman of the state alcoholism advisory board. Pike says Gov. George Deukmejian, then a state senator, wrote and carried the legislation.

The significance in the legislation, says Katherine, was that procedures were established so that state general funds and federal funds for alcohol services could be subvented to the counties.

None of it would have occurred, however, had not legislation been passed in Washington, D.C., to provide research and demonstration grants for state programs. To push that legislation, Katherine worked on the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism advisory council in Washington, D.C., and Tom lobbied then-President Nixon and testified before a hearing.

One wonders where these two septuagenarians derive such stamina.

After 38 years, they regularly attend fellowship meetings with others facing alcoholism. They walk at Lacy Park in San Marino several times a week. They go to 6:30 a.m. mass daily at St. Phillips, help with alcoholism seminars there for parishioners. Tom exercises for an hour each day at home and also works out at the California Club three times a week; Katherine gets her exercise running to the telephone, which rings incessantly, and to meetings.

Her strength astounds her husband, who wooed her at Stanford when he was student body president, married her in a white-tie ceremony at Stanford Memorial Church on their commencement day, June 15, 1931.

In their white Georgian home, which they built in 1935, she and Tom live by such mottoes as "Let go, let God," by the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. . . ."

She claims, "I don't have any strength. I just get up in the morning and face what has to be done, and let go, let God. I think it is survival. I can keep smiling for another five minutes."

Is that hard?

"Sometimes it's hard."

Isn't it easier now? "Every day has its challenges, and another thing they tell you . . . you can't do a thing about yesterday, and you can't do very much about tomorrow, but you can do a lot about life today--life comes to us one minute at a time."

By her serenity and twinkly, cheerful manner, one would think Katherine Keho Pike had never had a problem in her life. And, yet, her husband was an alcoholic. Their son, Jack, had polio when he was a student at Stanford, and there were many months before they were sure he would recover.

Katherine, in the fifth grade, had the flu, measles and scarlet fever--all within eight months. She didn't return to school until the eighth grade.

Her mother's alcoholism proved fatal.

Traditionally, the proud Pikes place themselves on their Christmas card with the mass of Pike grandchildren, a handsome lot, mostly in college. There are 14, and they are the children of Jack and Jody Pike of San Juan Capistrano; Mary and David Coquillard of Pasadena and Craig and Micki Barnes of Palo Alto.

"Sobriety," says Tom Pike, "after 38 years becomes a part of your life, like brushing your teeth and getting up in the morning, and particularly when I'm at a party and people get bombed, I think, thank God, I don't have to go through that--I feel so much better than those poor drunken bums. . . ."

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