The date was May 8, 1976. Fifty-three public figures, leaders in their professions, are assembled at the National Council on Alcoholism’s Operation Understanding in Washington, DC to speak openly about their recovery from alcoholism in an effort to reduce stigma and increase understanding that alcoholism is a treatable disease. Actor Dick Van Dyke was there as well as others like astronaut Buzz Aldrin, baseball legend Don Newcombe, actor Gary Moore and U.S. Senator Harold E. Hughes.
As the courageous group of recovering alcoholics posed together for a final photograph, John Mooney, MD and Bill Borchert were in such close proximity to each other they could have put their arms around each and joined in a bear hug. “While the two men politely shook hands, they never really met, conversed or got to know each other.
Fast forward 35 years to 2011. Dr. John Mooney has been deceased 28 years. Before his death he would lead thousands to find a life of sobriety. Borchert, 76 years old, has made his mark in the entertainment industry as an Emmy-nominated screenwriter and author. And with the same spirit he had in Washington, DC, he is still looking for ways to carry the message of recovery to others. “I told a friend in Scranton, Pennsylvania I would like to be involved in some way with a treatment center to help communicate my message of recovery. He told me he knew some folks in Statesboro, Georgia at Willingway I should meet,” Bill explains.
Borchert makes the initial trip to Willingway in March 2011 and is getting a tour of the facility from Dr. Bobby and Jimmy. “The three of us instantly hit it off and as we stopped outside a conference room, the Mooneys paused in front of a black and white photograph and proudly showed their father being one of those in attendance at Operation Understanding.
Almost chuckling to himself, Bill asks if they see the guy standing behind their father in the photo and does he look familiar? “And they looked at me and said, “Oh my gosh…that is you!”
And so began the official binding of Bill Borchert and the Mooney family. Bill soon became a Trustee of the Willingway Foundation and began regular trips to Statesboro. “I began to hear more about the story of Dr. Mooney and his wife and I suddenly realized that I was listening to a story that needed to be told to the world because of its very power. It would be a
hell of a story, a true eye opener due to sheer magnitude of the Mooney’s miraculous journey to recovery. I asked the children’s permission to write a book and they said, ‘Go for it.’”
Bill spent the next six months doing research. In the course of those months, he interviewed 38 people as well as transcribing many of the talks Dr. John and Dot delivered at various AA conventions. Willingway’s commitment to its audio visual department from the hospital’s infancy and its maintenance of the audio visual library’s recordings proved to be invaluable to the author. “Having their own words on a number of different transcriptions brought richness to the narrative because the tapes were very explicit,” he notes.
“When I began working on the book, I explained to the Mooney children how I thought it was important that such a book not be written like a normal biography. I wanted to deliver an intimate account that exposed everything about Dr. John and Dot–their virtues and warts as well.
I explained to them if they would not let me discuss the warts then in my estimation there could be no book. They all agreed that their mom and dad had never covered up anything when they talked and had never hid anything about their lives. The family giving me the green light, with this no holds barred approach, they too were willing to be totally open with me when I interviewed them,” Bill explains. “One of the things that impressed me so much when I began to do the research for this book was the simple fact, that here are the four Mooney children still living the legacy of their parents.”
Bill’s hope now is to find a producer to develop a movie based on this powerful narrative of restoration and redemption. “With my being in the film business, I developed this story that would be accepting to the Mooney’s children and just maybe capture the interest of a movie producer…someone who would envision a film from this book aligned with the drama of Dr. John and Dot’s once dark and captive existence,” he notes. “There is a lot of movie stuff in this book. One of the most compelling scenes would be John and Dot encased in a motel room trying frantically to detox each other from drugs to keep from dying. That is one hell of a scene for a movie. And believe me, there are many more!”
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