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Lois Burnham Wilson Dies; Founded Al-Anon for Alcoholics’ Families

Lois Burnham Wilson, who stood by her husband as he bested his alcoholism but then found that she needed to form her own support group to complement the Alcoholics Anonymous organization he had founded, died Wednesday.

Spokesmen for Al-Anon, the auxiliary group for family and friends of alcoholics, said the widow of William G. (Bill) Wilson, the co-founder of AA, was 97 and died at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., near her home in Bedford Hills.

Known as Lois W. and as “the first lady of Al-Anon,” Mrs. Wilson stayed with her alcoholic husband in the early 1930s. By then he had ruined a lucrative Wall Street career with his drinking. She said she had prayed that he would stop using alcohol and he eventually did but not before he and a friend, a doctor, formed the self-help group that became Alcoholics Anonymous.

After Bill W., as he was known in AA, founded the organization that today boasts 1.5 million members worldwide, she became discontented with the time he was spending with his now-sober friends.

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“He was always with his AA cronies,” said Mrs. Wilson, who was not an alcoholic. “I guess I was jealous and resentful that these strangers had done for him what I could not do.”

She began to apply the self-help principles of Alcoholics Anonymous to her own situation, sharing her experiences with other relatives of alcoholics and holding informal meetings.

“We did not discuss our alcoholic relatives, but tried to straighten out our own lives,” she said. “This attitude became basic to Al-Anon.”

The one-time schoolteacher and Macy’s sales clerk began holding meetings in the homes of her friends, much the way AA had begun.

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In 1951, she and those friends set up an Al-Anon headquarters in her home in Westchester.

Al-Anon, which is similar to but separate from Alcoholics Anonymous, now has 30,000 groups, including several thousand specifically for the teen-age children of alcoholics, according to an executive at Al-Anon headquarters. She estimated worldwide membership at 500,000.

Mrs. Wilson, who remained active in Al-Anon into the 1980s, left no immediate survivors. Her husband died in 1971.


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