Dr. Harry N. Patron Saint of Cleveland AA

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Harry N was born 1897 in Cleveland. He graduated valedictorian of his class at St. Ignatius College, which later became John Carroll University, and went on to Western Reserve Medical School, now part of CWRU, earning his MD degree in 1922. He interned at St. Vincent Charity Hospital becoming a surgeon on their staff.

He married in 1926 and a bit over a year later his wife gave birth to a son, Harry Jr.

Dr. Harry was generous in both time and money. Though trained as a surgeon, he also practiced Family Medicine involving house calls. He instructed his staff, “If they can only pay a nickel, then that’s what we charge them. They pay their bill and keep their self-respect, and they will not be afraid to come back for treatment when they need it.”

In the 1930’s Harry’s drinking progressed to the point where he took a leave to become a cowboy on a working ranch in Texas for 6 months in 1936. While his strength and health improved, it did not entirely stop his drinking. Upon return he and his wife searched for alternatives, seizing on an opportunity for him in 1937 to join the half dozen Clevelanders traveling weekly to the Oxford Group Meeting in Akron.

He then signed on with the few men meeting at the home of Albert “Abby” G in Cleveland Heights as an Alcoholics Anonymous Group starting in May 1939.

In the 1930s and ‘40s alcoholism was looked upon as a moral failing instead of a disease. Few hospitals admitted alcoholics. And, even then, admitted them under the guise of alcoholism side effects.

Dr. Bob and Dr. Harry approached Dr. Kitterer, an ordained minister who was the administrator of Cleveland’s Deaconess Hospital to get beds to hospitalize alcoholics there. Dr. Kitterer went to bat with his board and in May 1939 they entered their first patient. Dr. Harry managed to persuade many other hospitals to make rooms available for alcoholics.

In 1941 Dr. Harry began hospitalizing patients at St. Vincent Charity Hospital under the care of Sr. Lucille. A hospital publication titled “A History of A.A. Activities” referred to Dr. Harry as “patron saint of Cleveland AA,” high praise indeed. But Harry’s AA service there was about to end.

World War II was exploding and in 1942 Dr. Harry was called to service as a Captain in the Medical Corps, leaving Cleveland to report on September 30th at Bowman Field in Louisville KY. AA at St. Vincent floundered for a while until Dr. Victor Ippolito took over that ward. In 1952 Sr. Ignatia came from Akron and opened Rosary Hall there.

In late 1942, Captain Harry contracted pneumonia on his way to reassignment and died January 3, 1943 at the age of 45. In his few years on earth, and very few years of sobriety, Dr. Harry accomplished a great deal for us. We can only speculate how he might have changed local AA history given a bit more time.

By Bob M.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.