Last year on August 23, 2019, the world lost Mae Ashley Abraham, co-founder of Ashley Addiction Treatment located in Havre de Grace, Maryland. On the one-year anniversary of this extraordinary woman’s passing, it is fitting to recall the significant contribution that she made to the field of addiction recovery, as well as the many lives she touched.
Back in 1964, as fate would have it, Mae Abraham happened upon a chance encounter with a Catholic priest, Father Joseph Martin. As it happened, both Abraham and Fr. Martin battled the disease of alcoholism. Fr. Martin was in recovery and made the rounds giving compelling talks about recovery, including one that evening at John’s Hopkins — with Mae in the audience. She was so inspired by the talk that she gave up drinking that very night.
What transpired following this pivotal day is nothing short of destiny-in-the-making. Abraham and Fr. Martin became friends. Over the next several years they remained in touch while Fr. Martin continued to educate groups of people in various venues about recovery. When Fr. Martin was experiencing a bout of depression in 1970, the Abrahams invited him to come and reside with them.
In 1971, reinvigorated after emerging from that difficult period, Fr. Martin presented one of his Blackboard Talks to a group of 75 government officials, which led to the filming of his infamous “Chalk Talk” series. Mae Abraham saw potential in this new twist, and suggested that he form a production company and to create and distribute his own films. He agreed, and they named the company Kelly Productions, after the Abraham’s dog. Starting in 1972, Fr. Martin’s Chalk Talks became widely distributed to Navy bases worldwide, packaged in drug and alcohol education kits.
After a few years, Abraham looked at Fr. Martin one day in 1978 and asked, “Father, you can talk until you die, but then what? Why don’t we build a treatment center where everything you stand for can go on, where laypeople can get the kind of treatment priests got from Rip at Guest House?” Guest House was where Fr. Martin had been treated for his alcohol use disorder, and “Rip,” or Austin Ripley, was its owner.
From Mae Abraham’s single, intuitive question, a dream was hatched. Soon, the nascent steps were taken that would eventually lead to the culmination of that vision, the opening in 1983 of Father Martin’s Ashley, Ashley being Mae’s maiden name. Getting from point A in 1978 to point B in 1983 would be a grueling test of courage and determination, fueled by the unflagging efforts and passion of Mae Abraham. The word “quit” was simply not in her vocabulary.
The pair faced formidable obstacles. Their first proposed location for building a treatment center in North Carolina failed, as fundraising took far longer and was much more challenging than first anticipated. But as fate would have it, there was a bigger plan in motion, one that would lead them to a property located just 9 miles away from the Abraham’s home in Havre de Grace. The estate was owned by former Senator Millard E. Tydings and sat on 380 acres — perfect for the center that Fr. Martin and Mae envisioned.
The project was beset with many obstacles, but thanks to Abraham’s steadfast fundraising efforts and steely determination, they continued to move forward toward their goal. Father Martin is quoted as saying, “I was as close to quitting as I ever came, but Mae wouldn’t let me give up. No way. When things are at their worst, Mae is at her best.” Mae kept everyone on their game, never settling for anything shy of her goal of creating a welcoming, respectful place for people to receive compassionate help for their substance use.
The dream that Fr. Martin and Mae crafted together with an amazing team of talent and resources came to fruition on January 17, 1983. According to Fr. Martin, “All of us, Mae’s family, my family, board members, our friends and supporter, looked on in awe as Mae’s finishing touches converted that big stone building into a home.”
Within two years of opening, Fr. Martin’s Ashley (renamed Ashley Addiction Treatment in 2015), was ranked in Forbes magazine as one of the top ten treatment facilities in the country. By 1986 it was ranked among the top five. In the ensuing years, Ashley Addiction Treatment has treated more than 45,000 patients and their families. Thanks to the hard work and vision of this powerful duo, Ashley Addiction Treatment has helped save careers, families, and lives. Mae Abraham was a pioneer, a fighter, and a visionary, and she shall never be forgotten for the contributions she made to help so many.