By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Keith Hornibrook was fondly remembered in gatherings large and small, far and near, in the past week.
Without exaggeration, Mr. Hornibrook, who died Thursday, June 21, aged 95, was a friend to thousands, friends say. A mentor and inspiration to many, he was revered with icon status for the good he was able to do, the lives he was able to help change, over a period of decades.
As those in Alcoholics Anonymous put it, Mr. Hornibrook was “a friend of Dr. Bob and Bill W.”, the co-founders of AA. He celebrated his 50th year of sobriety in 2017.
Some lasting impressions of Mr. Hornibrook were shared by Ken M. one evening before his funeral at Central United Church. Respecting the AA tradition, I agreed to refer to speakers by first name and last-name initial.
“Keith was a welcoming guy. He was always one of the first to get up, shake hands and say, ‘Welcome to Arid House.’,” Ken M. said.
Mr. Hornibrook was a co-founder of ARID recovery homes. There is one in Thorold and one in Fort Erie. The first was founded in 1976. More recently, one was started up for women. That was three years ago in Welland, and the home, known as the WISH House, is “the icing on the cake,” said Ken M. Mr. Hornibrook was also co-founder of a men’s detox centre in St. Catharines.
He was one always to exude positive attitude regardless of how he happened to be feeling, Ken M. recalled.
“No matter the shape he was in especially the last five years when he was up and down health wise, he would walk into a room, do this little jig and say, ‘Never better! ’.”
A warm bath of memories poured out. Among them: Mr. Hornibrook had been fond of talking about doing his daily fitness curls and about shadowboxing. He walked the trails on Merritt Island almost daily up until he was in his mid-80s. He was a family man who believed in family values, Ken M. said.
“Keith started a culture here,” Ken M. said about his legacy. “We still have the same basics that Keith laid out. He had a vision and he believed in it. He knew how to get things done. ”
The ARID homes function in a home-like setting more so than an institutional one, he said. Twenty-three years sober himself and now the executive director, Ken M. recalled Mr. Hornibrook’s oft-spoken words of advice: “You don’t get parental with the people who come here. You’re not his boss. You’re his friend. Always remember you’re not counselling these guys, you’re their friend.”
He was also an innovator. Mr. Hornibrook recognized the importance of retreats, so almost 25 years ago a retreat at Port Colborne’s Rathfon Inn was started and continued for years, said Ken M. He was a mentor: “Every one of our staff who had encounters with Keith loved him.”
He believed in the importance of having purpose in life: “If you give someone a purpose, that person has a better chance of staying sober,” Ken M. said, sharing Mr. Hornibook’s philosophy. “He had a great gift of restoring confidence.” This helped him make many people who crossed his path employable.
Ron L. who spoke at Mr. Hornibook’s 50th anniversary of sobriety and also at his funeral last Friday, remembers him for his warm, winning smile.
“Why did he always look so content and happy? He loved life and he loved it to the fullest. And he was happiest at AA meetings,” he said.
Ron L. recalled how Mr. Hornibrook helped a young lady who was having trouble understanding AA’s 12 Steps by telling her, “See it this way: Steps One to Four, find God; Steps Five to Eight, get rid of your garbage; Steps Nine to Twelve, help others.”
In their personal relationship, Mr. Hornibrook taught Ron L. an important message: “You have to surrender to find your higher power, you can’t do it alone….You should do this every day: get down on your hands and knees and ask for help, and then at night, thank Him.” Ron L. said he does this every day of his life.
His friend had always been ready to help people regardless of what he was doing, said Ron L.
“People were attracted to him, they all went to him, thousands of people right across the continent. No exaggeration.”
A moment of silence in Mr. Hornibook’s memory was observed at last week’s meeting of the ARID House board of directors. A notation on the meeting agenda read: ‘A great loss our founder Keith Hornibook.’ A board member commented: “His legacy is unbelievable.”
And among a handful of messages of condolence on the funeral home website was this one: ‘To a gentleman that helped a lot of people begin a new life. He will never be forgotten. NEVER BETTER KEITH. God Bless You. Terry K.’
(Lasting Image is an occasional feature on the blog)