This Thanksgiving I will be giving thanks both for the blessings I have, but also for someone I am missing: my friend Bill. Occasionally, if I meet someone I know is part of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ll introduce myself with the well-known AA greeting - “I’m a friend of Bill.” Then l’ll add, “Not Bill W (the founder of AA) – but of Bill Dooner, and Bill is a friend of Bill.” Bill Dooner died a few days ago, from a fast-growing and aggressive cancer. He and I were friends for nearly 50 years. We met with our families at a guest ranch in Colorado. A bond immediately formed which has lasted these years.mmmm Never miss a local story. Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access. SUBSCRIBE NOW We were born eight days apart but our beginnings were so different. Bill grew up in New York on the edge of Harlem. I grew up in a small Canadian city. His family was Irish Catholic. Mine were Protestant. His family seldom had enough. Ours had enough to be comfortable. We both grew up in troubled households. When I was 14 I was said to be the youngest Youth for Christ director. When Bill was 14 he was the youngest member of AA. He started drinking when he was 5. Patrons in New York saloons would toss him a nickel so they could laugh and watch little Billy drink. By the time he turned 17 he he’d been in and out of Bellevue hospital a dozen times with grand mal seizures. Bill’s life turned around in Chicago. Homeless, jobless, ready to jump out of a window, blood pouring from his ear after a fight, on the street he met a priest who pointed him to God and to hope. That night Bill had a vision of Jesus. He joined AA and that saved his life. To me, Bill Dooner is a symbol of redemption. From that Chicago night he loved alcoholics and was devoted to newcomers. He became a successful entrepreneur in outdoor advertising, and both made a lot of money and lost some. He was passionate about justice and equality and was a young civil rights activist. He helped to start 14 minority businesses. In Oregon, he bought a rehab center that was falling apart, and invested money and time until it turned around. In his memory another treatment center will start in Memphis.