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Socialite Couple Leading Fight Against Alcoholism

February 04, 1985|MARY LOU LOPER | Times Staff Writer

Thomas P. Pike cast his eyes upward, as if in some wonderment, and admitted that his "magnificent obsession" to persuade the world that alcoholism is an authentic disease is not yet won.

"Alcoholism is a disease like catching a cold, diabetes, liver disease, cancer. It's a common disease that affects the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the religious and the layman. But society doesn't rate alcoholism with respectability. It's respectable to die of cancer or a heart attack, but not alcoholism. Alcoholism is (considered) a weakness of willpower, which is a societal myth."

Tom Pike and his Katherine--she's "got all the beauty and the brains in the family," he said--have been pillars of society in Los Angeles and Pasadena for nearly five decades. Both 75, they are currently on a Stanford trip to the South Seas, tracing the route of Capt. Cook.

But their true adventure has been the fight against booze, which grew out of his own battle with the bottle when he was a rising young businessman. Perhaps no two have worked so diligently, so continuously in the Southland against alcoholism. And possibly no two have had so much impact on the disease and set the stage for such progress.

They've given speeches by the hundreds, consulted with thousands, contributed more than $1 million. They've organized, humored, cajoled, lobbied.

For instance, Tom frequently stands before audiences and tells how he "was a poor drunken bum" until he found sobriety 38 years ago, how he had a cast-iron stomach, drank barrels of booze without getting sick, rushed pell-mell into alcohol, drank four bottles of champagne one night when he was 16, once drank 27 bottles of beer while in college and still could "walk, talk and navigate." But it was a time of "tee many martoonies."

He talks about how "my days with Katherine were numbered. I was AWOL for days, one time for 10 days, drinking. I sensed absolute disaster was at hand. Katherine never degraded me. I never became abusive. I was a happy drunk . . . but I was 15 years going downhill like a toboggan."

Then, he says, he found an organization that saved his life, a fellowship of alcoholic men and women who practice total abstinence and learn to live in a drinking society happily and productively. It's an organization that strongly suggests its member adhere to its anonymous precepts on the grounds that one should not take credit for one's own sobriety, that the power rests with someone greater than the alcoholic himself. Tom's last half-tumbler of Gordon's dry gin was Wednesday morning, Aug. 28, 1946. He was 37.

Tom already had become founder and president of the largest oil well-drilling contracting firm in California, the Thomas P. Pike Drilling Co., which he had begun in 1938. He had grown up in the oil well supply business, his father, Percy Mortimer Pike, founding the Tay-Pike Co., which later became the Pike family business, Republic Supply Co. of California.

Post-alcohol, he went on to even greater heights: chairman of the board, Republic Supply Co. and its successor, Pike Corp. of America, later merging it with Fluor Corp. and serving as vice chairman of the Fluor directors between 1969-80.

He became deputy assistant secretary of defense (1953-54), assistant secretary of defense (1954-56), followed by special assistant to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, California state chairman of the Richard M. Nixon campaign for presidency in 1960, a member of Gov. Ronald Reagan's campaign steering committee between 1966-70, president of the Stanford trustees in 1960, Loyola Marymount University trustee, a director of Hewlett-Packard Co. and a member of the board of the Rand Corp.

He also founded and remains honorary chairman of what is now the National Council on Alcoholism-Los Angeles County. Katherine was a founder of the Pasadena Council on Alcoholism (in 1949).

Together, since alcohol recovery is a family affair, they personally have helped hundreds, maybe thousands, find sobriety. With others, they've failed. Emergency calls come all hours of the day to their home and office. Those who have ever experienced their kindnesses know their devotion to their cause.

When Betty Ford committed herself for alcoholism, Dr. Joseph Pursch, director of the Long Beach Naval Hospital, called Tom and asked him to come down and talk to the former First Lady, and he asked Katherine to talk to the former President.

With their own wealth and that of the Pike Foundation, they have been generous. They have pledged $10,000 to the Weingart Center Skid Row Project. "You can't raise money unless you give," says Pike, and he currently is chairman of the committee that has raised $6.9 million of a $7.9-million goal for the alcohol rehabilitation center for homeless men.

But they also have given significantly to higher education projects with an emphasis on alcohol and also to Catholic secondary and higher education.

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