Nancy Moyer Olson, In Memoriam (continued)

The Golden Apples
of the Sun

The Golden Apple, the divine Messenger's gift of grace, love and new life (montage by Samantha-Hope Atkins,

Nancy describes going to her first
A.A. meeting in November 1965

  On the day after Thanksgiving in 1965, as was my custom, I opened my breakfast beer and then turned on the TV to watch the Today Show. The program was devoting its entire two hours to the subject of alcoholism. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous spoke, with his back to the camera, and Dr. Stanley Gitlow, a doctor who specialized in alcoholism, also spoke. I recognized myself in their descriptions of an alcoholic. I don’t remember who the others were.

I was 36 years old. I had done a number of things: I had been a WAC in military intelligence, I had been secretary to Mortimer Adler who created the University of Chicago Great Books series, I had traveled around the Caribbean with a British banker, and I had gone out to California to be a movie actress. I did get into the Pasadena playhouse and got some roles, and obtained an agent who backed me and tried to bill me as the new Grace Kelly, but the big Hollywood producers never tumbled to my charms.

I had known for some time that I was an alcoholic, but I thought it was my secondary problem. I believed that I was insane, and that was why I drank too much and thus had become an alcoholic. (God knows I had been doing a lot of insane things.)

At lunch time I invited a friend to join me for lunch at a coffee shop. (The first time I had lunch in a coffee shop in years.) I told my friend that I had decided I was drinking too much and was going to stop. “But April,” I said, “I am not sure that I can.”

When we returned to the office I phoned A.A. and told them I would come to the Intergroup office after work. But by 3 p.m. I needed a drink so I went to the room where we kept the alcoholic beverages and opened a beer. I drank about half and poured the rest down the sink. Then I made an excuse and left the office and took a cab to the A.A. Intergroup office.

I walked back and forth outside, peeking in the window where I saw several men standing around. Finally I screwed up my courage and entered. But I immediately started to cry and ran out again. A man followed me out and persuaded me to come back. “There are two lovely women in the back room who will be happy to talk to you.” I did indeed meet two lovely women: Lila, sober about 25 years; and Ginny, sober about 15 years. They arranged for me to go to my first meeting that night with Lila.

But while I was talking with them I couldn’t stop crying. A man entered the room and kept slicing an apple and urging me to eat it. I found it very difficult to eat the apple while sobbing, but not wanting to offend him, I choked it down.

About three months later that man showed up at a meeting I was attending. “How are you? I've often wondered about you and how you were doing.”

“I'm doing fine,” I replied. “I haven’t had a drink since you fed me that apple. It must have been a magic apple.”

I then told him I was making my first talk the next week. “I will be there,” he said.

He came to the meeting where I was telling my story for the first time, and he had a small gift for me. It was a key chain with a small gold apple on it. He suggested I carry it with me at all times and it would remind me of how I felt the day he fed me the apple, and I would not need to take another drink.

So the golden apple became my good luck charm. I always wear one, and in the two pictures of me in the book I wrote about my work on alcoholism legislation later on in Washington, D.C. -- the one with Senator Hughes and the one with Senator Williams -- you will notice that there is a golden apple pinned to my dress.

How Nancy Met
Senator Harold Hughes

Excerpted from her book, With a Lot of Help from Our Friends: The Politics of Alcoholism, Chapter 2, "The Man from Ida Grove." After Hughes left the Senate, he used a ghostwriter to prepare an autobiography entitled The Man from Ida Grove. Nancy like the title, and used it for this chapter of her book.

  I first met Harold Hughes, the man from Ida Grove, in August of 1968. It was a hot August day when I arrived in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic National Convention, as a volunteer to the Democratic National Committee. I was assigned to act as the hostess/coordinator in the so-called "Program Control Trailer." It was to this small, prefabricated house, set up inside the convention hall near the stairs that led down to the podium, that everyone who was to appear at the podium came. It was here that a makeup man applied their pancake makeup for television. It was here that they could practice with the prompter equipment. And it was here that they could review their speeches, confer with staff, twist arms for votes, or simply relax while waiting to be called to the podium to make their speeches.

Each morning of the convention I was given a list of those VIPs who would be coming through the trailer that day. On Wednesday morning the name "Governor Harold E. Hughes of Iowa" was on the list. Hughes was then running for the United States Senate. He had at first been a supporter of Bobby Kennedy for the nomination. After Kennedy's death Eugene McCarthy approached him for his support, and Hughes not only agreed to support him but also agreed to give the nominating speech for him.

I had known that there was a governor who had recovered from alcoholism whose name was Hughes. However, I had assumed that it was Governor Richard Hughes of New Jersey. I thought, "Oh, so there are two governors named Hughes. I wonder which one is the recovered alcoholic?" It didn't take me long to find out.

Early in the afternoon a tall, burly, ruggedly handsome man entered the trailer. He sat on the sofa and watched the television reports of the riots taking place in the streets between the demonstrators and the Chicago police. He looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I innocently asked if he would like something to drink, meaning only a cold Coca-Cola, which was all I had to offer. He misunderstood and thought I was offering an alcoholic drink.

"I don't use the damned stuff," he growled.

"You must be Governor Hughes," I replied. I then chatted with him for a few minutes and told him that I, too, was a recovered alcoholic. That evening when he returned to the Program Control Trailer to prepare to make his speech, and again when he left at the end of the evening, he caught my eye over the heads of the others and gave me a wide smile and a wave of the hand.

I had not understood at the time the important role Harold Hughes had played at that convention. I knew he was supporting Eugene McCarthy, for whom he gave the nominating speech, and I knew that he was running for the U.S. Senate. But I knew little more than that until later.

Actually, Hughes had been largely responsible for many of the reforms made by the 1968 convention. Today, most people only remember the 1968 Democratic convention because of the riots. But as Theodore White pointed out in his book, The Making of the President 1968 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969), it is important to recall how large were the real achievements of this convention. These changes would fundamentally alter the nature of future Democratic conventions.

And these reforms were largely brought about by the efforts of Harold Hughes. But I understood little of this at the time. I was merely excited that I had met so many important political figures, most exciting of all, Harold E. Hughes of Iowa. Little did I realize that within a year I would be working for Harold Hughes, and that my whole life would change as a result.

I had feared his history of alcoholism would be used to defeat him. But I needn't have worried. When he ran for his second term as Governor, his opponent had tried to use it against him and it backfired. The people of Iowa reacted by reelecting him with an overwhelming majority. He had remained very popular in Iowa, despite his taking positions that were politically unpopular. The attitude toward his alcoholism seemed to be "You can attack the sin, but not the 'reformed' sinner." When he ran for the Senate, it had been many years since he had a drink. So his political opponents, having learned their lesson, stayed away from the alcoholism issue.

And so Harold Everett Hughes of Ida Grove, Iowa, an alcoholic, came to the United States Senate. He was not the first alcoholic to be elected to the Senate, nor was he the last. But he was the first who openly admitted his alcoholism.

Years later, Hughes told how he had felt on arriving in Washington (Harold E. Hughes, "Foreword," Alcohol Health & Research World 12, no. 4 [1988]: 234).

  "I had been elected to the U.S. Senate only 17 years after admitting that I was an alcoholic and reaching out for help. As my plane landed, I thought of the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who had never found help, many of whom lived as derelicts or had died tragically. I asked myself if one of the reasons I had been brought to Washington as a U.S. Senator was to represent those still suffering from addiction to alcohol and other drugs."  

  I had been asking myself some questions, too. My alcoholism had kept me from pursuing a satisfying career. Now sober a few years, I still was bogged down in an uninteresting and low-paying job. I needed to move on. But what should I do with my life? My interest in politics was keen and from my study of the Roosevelt, Johnson and Kennedy Administrations, I knew that public office could be a springboard from which one could effect major changes in public policy toward the poor and disabled. Clearly I was not qualified to run for public office myself. But perhaps there were other ways I could serve.

Soon I learned that Hughes had been assigned to the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. I realized that he was now in a position to influence government policy about alcoholism, since this Committee had jurisdiction over all health issues, as well as education and labor. I immediately called my friend Jo Nobles, who had recently been hired as Hughes' personal secretary, and asked her if they needed any volunteers.

"We sure could use you," Jo said. "But they are funny about volunteers around here. They don't like them. But let me talk to some people and I will call you back." Jo called back later that day and asked if I would be willing to help Mary Ellen Miller. Mary Ellen had been hired as research assistant to Hughes, and spent much of her time answering the legislative mail.

I learned later that hundreds, if not thousands, of recovered alcoholics had contacted Hughes wanting to work for him, or volunteering to help him. Many of these were dedicated people who later played an important role in developing the alcoholism legislation he sponsored, and assuring its passage. Hughes had no hesitancy in hiring a qualified alcoholic, but volunteers were another problem. You can't fire them. Experience in the Governor's office had taught them that some recovered alcoholics were emotionally unstable, inflexible, and troublesome. Jo and Mary Ellen convinced them that I was not of that type, and so I became the first volunteer. Soon I found myself spending weekends and holidays at Hughes' office on the first floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, typing, filing, answering the mail on alcoholism, and doing whatever else I could to make myself useful.

During that time I had an opportunity to get to know Park Rinard, Hughes' right hand man and alter ego since the beginning of Hughes' political career. Park now held the top position on the staff, that of "Administrative Assistant." This kind and compassionate man also wrote all of Hughes' speeches, and was the inspiration behind much of the work that Hughes had accomplished as Governor. I liked Park at once. I soon became fond of other members of the staff as well, especially Bill Hedlund who, while on the Governor's staff in Iowa, had coordinated all the alcoholism activities, working closely with Ken Eaton, who ran the Iowa alcoholism program.

Ed Campbell, another important member of the staff, handled the Senator's itinerary when he traveled and usually traveled with him. Another was Wade Clarke, a bright young lawyer Hughes brought with him from the Governor's office. Wade was quiet and reserved, not easy to get to know, but I would have an opportunity to work with him later, and found that we worked well together. Park however was clearly in charge of the staff and made most of the staffing decisions.

Drug addiction was a hot political issue in 1969, primarily because of the boys coming home from Vietnam addicted to heroin. Everyone from the President on down was talking about "doing something" about drug addiction. As an alcohol addict, Hughes certainly empathized with the narcotics addicts, as did I. Alcohol, we knew, was a drug. Perhaps we could piggyback on the drug issue to pass legislation to help alcoholics. Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas was then Chairman of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee. He had already been planning to create a special subcommittee -- suggested to him by Senator Harrison A. "Pete" Williams of New Jersey -- to deal with the problem of narcotics addiction.

One morning Yarborough turned on his television set to the Today Show. Senator Hughes was being interviewed, and, as always happened when he talked to the media, they asked him about his personal history of alcoholism. Yarborough was impressed with what Hughes said about the issue, and talked to him about it later that day. It was not hard to convince Yarborough that the Subcommittee should also study alcoholism, the most serious drug problem in the country.

But Senator Yarborough pointed out that as Chairman of the Health Subcommittee, Senator Edward Kennedy had jurisdiction over these issues. So the two of them went to see Kennedy. They asked for his approval for the creation of the Special Subcommittee. Kennedy graciously agreed, and volunteered to serve with Hughes on the Subcommittee. (See testimony of Senator Harold E. Hughes, Hearings before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Examining the Administration's Proposed Health Security Act, to Establish Comprehensive Health Care for Every American, Part 4, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess., 1994, 582-595.)

Senator Williams, in 1969, told me that the creation of that Subcommittee had been his idea and he wanted to chair it. "It is the only fight I ever had with Yarborough," he told me. "Yarborough said, 'But Pete, you already chair the Labor Subcommittee, and this guy Hughes, you know he's an alcoholic.'" In fact, Williams himself had been treated for alcoholism the year before at Chit Chat Farms in Pennsylvania (now the Caron Foundation) and was now recovered, but that was not yet public knowledge. Yarborough presumably did not know, although he may have known about Williams' past drinking problems. (Williams publicly admitted his alcoholism on May 21, 1970, in an interview in the New York Times.)

It was originally created as a "special" subcommittee because it was intended to be a temporary subcommittee that would make a study, recommend legislation, and then be discontinued. Many members of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare wanted to serve on this Subcommittee. Yarborough finally appointed, in addition to Hughes as Chairman, the following Democrats, whom I have named in order of Committee seniority: Ralph Yarborough of Texas, Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, Harrison A. Williams, Jr., of New Jersey, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota.

Senator Javitz named the following Republicans, again, in order of seniority on the Committee: Jacob K. Javitz of New York as ranking Republican, Peter H. Dominick of Colorado, Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, and William B. Saxbe of Ohio. Bellmon soon left the Committee and was replaced on the Subcommittee by Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.

Yarborough initially could not provide funds for staff, but Hughes told him he would see what he could do without additional staff. I let Park Rinard know I would like to join the Subcommittee staff. But it was not until the fall of 1969 that funds were provided. As mentioned earlier, Hughes transferred Wade Clarke to the Subcommittee as counsel, and appointed me as research assistant. I gave up a position as legislative correspondent with Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) to accept this assignment. Senator Javitz named Jay B. Cutler as minority counsel.

Senator Williams became Chairman of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare two years later. Yarborough had been defeated in the primary by Lloyd Bentsen. Williams not only allowed Hughes to go on chairing the Subcommittee, he eventually made it a permanent panel, increased the staff allowance, and changed its name to the more grammatical and inclusive "Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse."

Being appointed to this staff was a major turning point in my life, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity it afforded me to be a participant when most of the historic events described in this book were taking place.

The montage at the top was prepared by Samantha-Hope
Atkins of the We Recover Foundation and Sober City

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