Anne B. Packard, 79, established first Alcoholics Anonymous group for women

June 30, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Anne B. Packard, whose pioneering work with female alcoholics brought her wide acclaim, died Sunday from complications of an infection at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 79 and lived in the Hampton section of Baltimore County.

A recovering alcoholic who had celebrated 41 years of sobriety at the time of her death, Mrs. Packard became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous in 1957.

"When she joined AA in those days, it was pretty much a male bastion because they didn't want women to be a part of the group," said Pam M., also a recovering alcoholic and AA member.

"They tried to hide the alcoholism of their wives. It really was a hidden disease for women in those years and she had to battle her way into the group because she was simply a woman," Pam M. said.

Mrs. Packard's interest in creating an atmosphere where female alcoholics would feel welcome led her to establish the first AA group for women in the country in 1958. It met in Towson.

Today, there are 31 such meetings in the Baltimore area.

Pam M. attributed much of Mrs. Packard's success as a leader to her ability to use humor to help people.

"She was a great humorist who was able to take life's tragedies and experiences to break through and help people begin to heal. She had the ability to make people laugh who hadn't laughed in years," Pam M. said.

"She let people know that it was OK to be the way they were, and by giving them hope, they could get better. She also took away the stigma of being an alcoholic," she said.

"She loved the unlovable and stayed with them until they were well," Pam M. said.

Day or night, Mrs. Packard thought nothing of leaving home to help a suffering alcoholic. She counseled families so that husbands and children knew what their mothers were going through.

For years, she spent every Saturday at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, in Jessup, counseling inmates.

"It didn't matter what the socio-economic level of the caller was. She could visit a downtown flophouse or a society person. She was able to touch them all," said Jim M., a recovering alcoholic and friend for 30 years. "She was such an inspiration. She had a gift. It's the only way I can describe what she did."

"She was not a shy woman and had a great ability at expressing herself," said Bob M., a recovering alcoholic and longtime friend. "And she would tolerate no nonsense. When she worked with a person, that person did what she said."

Years ago, when someone objected to a black member attending the organization's annual banquet, Mrs. Packard went on a rampage.

"She was furious that someone would say such a thing, much less think that way. So, she took the lady to the banquet and made sure that they both sat right down front," said Pam M.

"AA gave her life purpose and she always thought in terms of it. She realized that it had saved her life and she never forgot who she was, or where she had come from," Pam M. said.

The former Anne Bagby, granddaughter of the founder of Baltimore's Bagby Furniture Co., was born in Roland Park and raised in Chapel Hill, N.C., where her father, English Bagby, was a noted psychologist at the University of North Carolina.

After graduating from high school, she attended Goucher College and Duke University.

In the early 1950s, she married Bradley Welfare, a United Nations diplomat, and lived for several years in Somaliland. After they were divorced, she wed Gregorius Deeb and that marriage also ended in divorce.

In 1957, she married W. Gardner Packard, also a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who died in 1985.

The former longtime Lutherville resident was a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Services for Mrs. Packard will be held at 2: 30 p.m. today at Towson United Methodist Church, 501 Hampton Lane.

She is survived by a son, Bradley L. Welfare of Corpus Christi, Texas; a grandson, Russell English Welfare of Westford, Mass.; and special friend, Pam M. of Towson.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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