Mae Abraham hears Father Martin present his “Blackboard Talk” at an AA meeting in Baltimore, and it transforms her life. From the moment the speaker came out and said, “Hello, I’m Father Martin, and I’m an alcoholic,” Mae recalls, “I sensed that I was in the presence of someone who knew and understood me. Everyone had been describing my drinking in terms of a problem with morality: I was evil, sinful, immoral, women, don’t behave this way. That night hearing Father Martin’s Backboard Talk, I could see clearly – for the first time – that I did have a problem, but it wasn’t a problem with morality, it was a problem with a disease.”
Mae and Father developed a deep friendship, writing and calling one another often. No one could have predicted the effect the friendship that developed between Mae Abraham and Father Joseph Martin would have not only on Father Martin himself, but on the field of alcoholism. No one could have guessed that these two people, so different in background and temperament-one a Catholic priest from Baltimore, the other the daughter of a Baptist minister from the mountains of North Carolina-would have even become friends.
After speaking at the Fellowship by the Sea conference in Myrtle Beach, SC, Father and Mae begin openly discussing plans for a treatment facility on the plane ride back, initially naming the project “Ashley: The Possible Dream.” This leads to seven years of looking for funds and donors, as well as searching for the ideal location.
Ashley opened its doors on Monday, January 17, 1983 with five patients, six staff and no fanfare. They were reluctant to hold a function for a large number of people in the dead of winter, but even more important, they wanted to concentrate all of their energies and resources on the patients themselves.