Paul Molloy, who co-founded a housing program for drug addicts, dies at 83

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In the early 1970s, J. Paul Molloy was a young Capitol Hill lawyer who played a key role in drafting the legislation that created Amtrak and other federal programs. He was also an alcoholic whose drinking would eventually cost him his job, his family, and his home.

For a few months in 1975, he found himself living on the streets and begging for money from strangers before entering a rehabilitation program. He moved to a county-run halfway house in Silver Spring, Maryland to recuperate, but soon learned the facility was about to close.

Instead of being left to their own fate, Mr. Molloy and other residents decided to take over the house themselves, paying rent and utilities, cooking meals and watching over each other on the path to healing.

They called their experience of group living and joint sobriety Oxford House. It was the first step in a nearly 50-year-old nationwide movement that has helped thousands of people overcome addiction and lead productive lives.

Mr Molloy was chief executive of Oxford House until his death at 83 on June 11 at his home in Silver Spring. The cause was lung cancer, said his wife, Jane Molloy.

A patient listener and persuasive speaker, Mr. Molloy was in some ways his best example of the importance of a second chance in life. When he worked as a Republican adviser to the Senate Commerce Committee, he said he would draft cocktail napkin legislation while pursuing shots of Canadian Club whiskey with Budweiser beer.

“I wrote everything on these napkins, and my secretary took them back to the Senate and typed them,” Mr. Molloy told the Washington Post Magazine in 1989. “And the sweat from the Budweiser bottles left ink stains on those And I’m sure those inkblots were the words that would have made Amtrak profitable… But that’s what you get when you have laws written while drunk.

He also had a violent streak when drinking and could be biting and sarcastic towards colleagues and family.

“He was a really mean, mean drunk,” Jane Molloy recalled in an interview.

After 15 years of marriage, she kicked her husband out of the house in 1975, filed for divorce and got a court order that sent him to a hospital psychiatric ward. During his homeless spell, Mr Molloy threw away his wedding ring, then in a moment of remorse, crawled through the gutters trying to find it. He never did.

“I ended up about as low as a Republican lawyer on a Senate committee can end up,” he said.

Thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous and the intervention of friends, Mr. Molloy quit drinking and began to turn his life around. When he landed another job on Capitol Hill, he was warned, “One drink and you’re fired.”

However, perhaps the most important part of his recovery was Oxford House, the Silver Spring group home where he lived for more than two years. (The name derives from the Oxford Group, a religious organization whose ideas have been adopted by A.A.)

Mr. Molloy and the other residents devised the ground rules for self-government that have shaped Oxford House ever since. First, all decisions would be made democratically, with a group vote. Second, each resident would contribute equally to rent and household chores. And, more importantly, anyone using drugs or alcohol would be deported.

Another key part of the plan was that there was no deadline for moving out: people could live in Oxford House for as long as they wanted, if they followed the rules.

Recovery worked best, Molloy found, when addicts cut all ties to people and places that had tempted them in the past. For this reason, Oxford House locations were typically rental homes in stable single-family neighborhoods.

“All the counselors said, ‘It will never work because the inmates can’t run the asylum. It’s going to be a drunk house,” Mr Malloy said in 1990.

But something about the simplicity of the program seemed to work. Residents accompanied each other to rehab meetings and treatment programs. Anyone who relapsed was kicked out – but told how to ask for help.

Within two years, other Oxford House locations sprang up in the Washington area. The houses often faced opposition from residents who feared living near a group of men (and sometimes women) with criminal records and substance abuse issues.

When an Oxford House facility opened near Chevy Chase Circle in Washington in 1977, Mr Molloy “asked for patient tolerance”, said Steven Polin, general counsel at Oxford House – and former resident him. -even – in an interview. “For the most part, people are finding out that we’re not going anywhere – and that we’re good neighbours.”

The Chevy Chase house became a neighborhood staple, and when the property sold after more than 30 years, neighbors threw a block party for current and past residents of the house.

In the 1980s, the Oxford House idea spread to other states. He received a boost after Mr Molloy successfully lobbied for the passage of the Anti-Drugs Act 1988, which created a fund to help provide start-up loans to groups opening recovery places residential like those at Oxford House. The group also receives funding from public bodies and foundations.

Oxford House officials cite a long-running study from DePaul University in Chicago indicating that people who complete a year of residency maintain a sobriety rate as high as 80%.

“I guarantee you it will work and it won’t cost you anything,” Molloy said as he rallied his support. “Houses work anyway if you put them in good neighborhoods and throw out anyone who relapses.”

When some communities tried to stop Oxford House from renting in their neighborhoods, Mr Molloy and his lawyers went to court. Oxford House won a US Victory in the Supreme Court in 1995 against the city of Edmonds, Washington, on the grounds that the city’s efforts to block the group home violated provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

There have been instances where Oxford House locations have been closed after local objections, but Mr Molloy has sought to be a voice of comfort.

“Heck, all drunks and drug addicts are crooks,” he told the Portland Oregonian in 2020. “If a neighbor doesn’t like you, you mow their lawn every week.”

John Paul Molloy was born August 3, 1938 in Bennington, Vermont and grew up in Arlington, Vermont. Her father was a grocery clerk and her mother was a housewife who did laundry.

Mr. Molloy was a 1961 graduate of the University of Vermont, where he met his future wife, Jane Wells, on the debate team. Both graduated from Catholic University Law School in 1965. She went on to a four-decade career as a Commerce Department lawyer and policy analyst.

Mr. Molloy worked for the former Civil Service Commission before moving to Capitol Hill, where he served on the staff of Sen. Winston L. Prouty (R-Vt.), and later on Senate committees and from the room. He worked for the law firm Isham Lincoln & Beale from 1981 until its dissolution in 1988, then continued to drive Oxford House.

According to COO and incoming CEO Kathleen Gibson, Oxford House has more than 20,000 residents in more than 3,300 homes across 44 states and several foreign countries. Hundreds of thousands of people have gone through the program.

In 1988, after 13 years of separation, Mr. Molloy and his ex-wife remarried.

“The fact is,” she said when her husband was featured on “60 minutesin 1990, “when he’s not drinking, he’s the nice guy I first married.”

In addition to his wife, of Silver Spring, survivors include their five children, Elizabeth Molloy and Robert Molloy, both of Silver Spring, Mark Molloy of Winchester, Mass., James Molloy of Brookline, Mass., and Sarah Jackson of Arlington, Mass. .; a brother; and eight grandchildren.

Ryan H. Bowman