John Van D. died at the age of 84 on August 4, 1991. He had come to AA in Scarsdale, New York on February 13, 1953. His wife Beatrice is an Orlando girl. In 1955 he attended his first Orlando AA meeting located at Court Street. It’s now a parking lot behind the old Court Building. That same evening he went on a 12th-step call at the Fort Gatlin Hotel, 543 North Orange Avenue, now a part of the Orlando Sentinel parking lot. Bea and John visited Orlando frequently. By 1964 they were spending two months a year in the area. In 1968 they made Orlando their permanent home.
John was exceptionally active in AA service when he first arrived in this area, and remained so until his death. Those who were around during the infancy of our Intergroup remember how instrumental John was in getting it started. He, Robbie, C. K., Bill T., and Ed J., to mention a few, established an answering service in the old Alco-An Club on Jackson Street.
John, like most everyone, was taken in by Mac, a con artist who claimed to be a defrocked Episcopalian priest. Mac’s offer to completely manage “AA services”—that is, answer the phone, give speeches, control the money and so on—for a mere $200 a month was accepted as a “good deal”—until Mac absconded with nearly $1,000 in cash, checks and property. John Van was one of the several who donated enough money for Intergroup to continue operation. The donations were used as seed money to establish an Intergroup Office away from the club environment. John Van was a professional writer, having made his living as a journalist, editor and publisher. After researching the governing documents of 40 intergroup offices throughout the nation, he wrote the original Constitution and By-laws for the Central Florida Intergroup Services in 1973, which stands intact today with very little change.
John was Chairman of the North Florida Area for two years and Alternate Delegate for another two years. He was our second chairman of the Steering (now Service) Committee, throwing himself full measure into the performance of his duties. During 1978, he became chairman of Public Information.
As chairman of Public Information in 1978, he found radio stations very receptive to AA inputs to educational talk shows. He and others actively participated.
In a taped interview, John relates that during the late 1970s, newspapers were only mildly interested in AA, the medical profession even less so. TV stations felt GSO’s spot material was too long, so John made shorter and more effective TV spot announcements. GSO was so appreciative of John’s spot commercials (cartoon/message) that they produced them in quantity and sold them through the General Service catalog.
Having worked the volunteer telephone with John on Wednesday afternoons for many years, sought out his advice on local and general AA matters, and watched John work with and help with alcoholics in their recovery as well as in their service to the fellowship, I can testify that he epitomized the concept of service to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
John had to give up his spot as telephone volunteer when Bea became disabled. Although his visits to the Intergroup Office became less frequent because of having to care for Bea, he could still be counted on for help when asked. Although in his 80s, he was still very active mentally and physically until a stroke slowed him down several months before his death.
John was probably the most instrumental person in making Central Florida and our Intergroup services what they are today. I know. I worked close to him for years. On the other hand, John was a very private person. We all knew the hardships he was experiencing while caring for Bea. But we never heard John complain. He believed in spiritual anonymity. His load was for him to carry. John and Bea had 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. At the funeral, a granddaughter and five grandsons acted as pallbearers.
The priest eulogized John for his help to the still suffering alcoholic and his service to Alcoholics Anonymous. It was beautiful. The priest knew details of John’s involvement in AA that had never been revealed in the AA community. Then I remembered John saying, “If you do a good deed and you’re found out, it doesn’t count.” Revelation by the priest of some of these good deeds made me realize that John had truly practiced the principle of spiritual anonymity.
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