Willingway was established in 1971 by a husband and wife in the small college town of Statesboro, Georgia. The founders, Dr. John and Dot Mooney, a surgeon and a nurse, were able to overcome their own drug and alcohol addictions and help other people recover. After 45 years, the rehab center still remains a private, family-operated hospital on an 11-acre wooded campus. The Mooneys have spent their lives spreading the word of recovery and helping others recover from alcohol and drug addiction.
If you were an alcoholic in 1970, you might have woken up from a blackout to the bright light of a chandelier. And you might have thought, as some did, that you had died from your addiction and gone to heaven. But what you had really found was hope, because you had come into the hands and home of Dr. John and Dot Mooney, the founders of Willingway Hospital.
John and Dot had only recently become sober themselves when they converted their home to a makeshift alcohol and drug treatment center. John was a surgeon who served in World War II as a combat medic and returned from war-torn Italy and France to his home town of Statesboro. He brought back war injuries and post-traumatic stress, which he self-medicated with alcohol and painkillers. Dot was a beautiful and fun-loving nurse who cared deeply for her patients, although she had a tendency to sneak drinks and drugs on the job.
After John and Dot married, they fell together into a nightmare of alcohol and drug addiction. John’s moderate drinking increased to two handles of whiskey a day. Dot cared for her four children completely drunk and while popping pills. Their addictions made them different people from the ones their friends and family had loved. They lied, alienated loved ones, and broke the law to ensure a steady stream of alcohol, tranquilizers, sedatives, and narcotics.
In 1959, while John was worried he would lose his access to drugs, he lost his career instead. A judge found him guilty of writing illegal prescriptions to get drugs and sentenced him to a federal prison for six months. Even more painfully, John was barred from practicing medicine.
In prison, John hit a low point and experienced a spiritual awakening. He was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous and would never take another drink. Taking to heart the AA tenet that a recovering addict must help others to stay sober themselves, John and Dot soon turned their medical expertise toward good use. They welcomed suffering alcoholics and drug addicts who could find no relief anywhere else into their own home for treatment, some living at the Lee Street home as long as three years to gain a foothold on their sobriety. From Georgia and surrounding states, people would send “hopeless drunks” to the “Drunk Doctor from Statesboro,” who helped save lives. With this new family of alcoholics and drug addicts, as many as thirty people shared the Mooney household at one time. Strangers slept in the living room, bedrooms, and anywhere else a bed would fit. The dining room became the makeshift detoxification area and hanging from the ceiling was the glowing chandelier that represented hope for so many.
The Mooneys did not charge for their services and, after seven years of covering the medical costs, food, and board, of so many people, John and Dot’s accountant broke the news they were now bankrupt. So, in 1971, with the help from investors, they established Willingway Hospital, a formal alcohol and drug addiction treatment center with a lasting commitment to providing the same standard of care in a dedicated environment that John and Dot had provided in their home.