Mae Abraham, 92, whose unexpected meeting with Father Joseph Martin during a fragile stage of her sobriety would lead to the founding of one of the nation's most storied and impactful addiction treatment centers, died Aug. 23 at her Maryland home.
Abraham spoke often of the unlikely pairing of a Catholic priest and the daughter of a Protestant minister that would become the driving force behind the establishment of Father Martin's Ashley, now Ashley Addiction Treatment. Her involvement with the Havre de Grace. Md.-based Ashley continued from the time of its opening in 1983 to inspirational visits on campus with patients on the first Saturday of each month, a tradition she maintained up to the time of her death.
The charismatic Fr. Martin, creator of the famous “Chalk Talk” series that has been used as part of countless treatment facilities' patient education efforts worldwide, died in 2009.
“Ashley was a miracle,” Abraham told Addiction Professional in an interview published last February. “It would have to be the desire of the good Lord that a Baptist minister's daughter and a Catholic priest would get together to raise money to help alcoholics.”
Abraham first heard Fr. Martin's motivating words when she attended a 12-Step meeting at which U.S. Sen. and national recovery advocate Harold Hughes had been scheduled to appear. Hughes had to cancel and Fr. Martin filled in.
Admirers of the duo's work at Ashley and for the field in general cite their success in helping to erase shame and stigma around addiction for the patients and families they encountered. Abraham often spoke of how feelings of shame had hampered her early recovery, but that once she heard Fr. Martin speak about the disease she would never again let shame stand in her way.
“I consider Mae to be the First Lady, not just of Ashley, but of our incredible field,” said nationally prominent author and trainer Claudia Black, PhD. “She embraces the epitome of the promises of recovery—grace, honesty, humility. There is no stronger advocate for healing and recovery of the addicted and their family.”
Attorney James Denvir, who chairs the Ashley Addiction Treatment board of directors, first met Abraham when he was a patient at Ashley in 2007. “You couldn't help but be impressed with the person who created it all,” Denvir tells Addiction Professional. “I did feel I was in the presence of a historical figure.”
Denvir says Abraham last spoke at Ashley a few weeks ago at an employee appreciation event. “You could tell she was still very meaningful to everyone on campus,” he says.
He believes Ashley has succeeded in carrying forward the mission of Fr. Martin and Abraham to treat every patient with dignity, adhering to Fr. Martin's adage of “nothing is too good for the suffering alcoholic.”
In the days since Abraham's death, tributes poured in from many prominent Ashley alumni, including former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, actress Lynda Carter and musician Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. “Mae and Father Martin were always so supportive and helpful with my sobriety, and whenever I'd reach out after all these years, they always made time for me, and had the answers and advice I needed,” Lofgren said.
Abraham died three days before what would have been the 55th anniversary of her sobriety.
A viewing will take place this Thursday, Aug. 29 from 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 to 8 pm at the Zellman Funeral Home, 123 S. Washington St., in Havre de Grace. A Mass will be said this Friday at 10 am at St. Joan of Arc Church, 222 S. Law St., in Aberdeen.
Contributions in Abraham's honor may be made to the Mae Abraham Legacy Fund at Ashley Addiction Treatment, P.O. Box 240, Havre de Grace, MD 21078.