On every ship I’ve ever sailed, there are always meeting announcements in the daily schedule for various groups, e.g. the Smith family reunion, bridge players, or continuing education courses. Over time, I noticed that there was a meeting announcement of “Friends of Bill W.” on every single sailing. Who is this “Bill W.”? How can he sail on every ship and have all these friends?
William “Bill W.” Wilson is the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) along with Dr. Bob Smith. One of the core tenets of AA is the anonymity of its members as a way of keeping principles ahead of personalities. AA members always introduce themselves with just their first name.
When AA members started approaching cruise directors about holding meetings during the sailing and publicizing it in the ship’s announcements, the cruise lines were hesitant. There was a fear that blatantly announcing an AA meeting might upset some of the guests. Consequently the euphemism “Friends of Bill W.” began to be used.
These insider announcements have since expanded to include “Friends of Jimmy K.” and “Friends of Dorothy.” The “Jimmy K.” refers to James Kinnon who founded Narcotics Anonymous in 1953. NA was patterned on Alcoholics Anonymous, including the same tenet of anonymity reflecting that no addict is above any other.
Friends of Dorothy was originally for gay men but now encompasses Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT). But who was Dorothy? That one has no clear answer. The phrase “friends of Dorothy” dates back to at least WWII as a way of discussing sexual orientation without outsiders knowing; especially as homosexuality was illegal and often persecuted. In Britain, the term was “friends of Mrs. King”, i.e. a “Queen”.
One popular explanation is that it refers to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was accepting of others who were “different” such as the Cowardly Lion who was forced to hide his real identity and live a lie. The Lion had a line in the movie declaring “We’re friends of Dorothy.”
Others claim it refers to Dorthy Parker, the well-known critic and humorist who often included gay men in her social circles.
What impresses me about these announcements is how creative cruise lines can be at accommodating the needs of every passenger.