Malone celebrates 25 years of sobriety, helping others
Lebanon — Jack Malone has a designated parking space at Lebanon Pines and a story similar to the men who come to the residential substance abuse treatment facility when alcohol or drugs has taken over their lives.
The 62-year-old Norwich native, a Navy veteran, former newspaperman and longtime state representative, had his last drink on June 20, 1993. His sobriety date is June 21, the day he entered a two-week rehabilitation facility in New Hampshire.
On Monday, he is planning to go to his regular Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where he expects to receive a medallion and eat cake — "Even if I have to buy the cake myself" — to celebrate his quarter-century of sobriety.
Malone, executive director of the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said he has never afforded himself the anonymity available to those in the AA fellowship. He agreed to talk about his struggle with alcohol during an interview recently in his office at Lebanon Pines, SCADD's state-supported, long-term treatment facility for men.
"People don't often do that but, if it's tied to the fact that my 25 years of sobriety has allowed me to help people, I'm all for it," he said. "I derive a great deal of satisfaction by trying to help others. I'm the guy in the community who's willing to talk about substance abuse. I don't think it's what my parents had in mind but it is what it is."
His parents didn't drink, knowing there were alcoholics in their families, but had three sons who were alcoholics, Malone said. One of his brothers died at age 25, and his brother Tom died a few years ago, Malone said, after living a life made "crappy" by drinking.
The thing is, Malone said, if he didn't stop drinking, he'd probably be dead and would not have been able to have a remarkable life that included serving in the General Assembly for 14 years, meeting two presidents, seeing two popes and visiting 10 countries. He recently married for the second time and is enjoying the new experience of having a step-grandchild.
Malone started working for SCADD in 1995 as development director. He was promoted to associate director and became executive director in 2001. Clients of Lebanon Pines made him the sign that reserves the parking spot closest to his second-floor office in a building that served as a residence hall for school boys. During a walking tour of the woodsy retreat, men greeted him respectfully as "Mr. Malone." He pointed out the auto shop, greenhouse, woodshop, dining hall and swimming pool and a building that he said soon would house chickens, even though it's a headache getting all the needed permits from the state.
He says visitors often remark that Lebanon Pines, where most of the 110 clients spend 90 days learning how to live sober, has a "good feeling about it."
Malone is a jovial man, a storyteller who admits he sometimes talks too much. Surprisingly, he said, as a younger man he was sometimes paralyzed with fear and an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment if he had to speak in front of people. Drinking loosened him up, he said, but it also caused him to do things he still regrets.
'Drinking was fun'
A social cocktail was never part of the equation for Malone, who said when he had one drink, it turned into 10 or more. He had developed a taste for gin by age 37, when he was pulled over on Bank Street in New London and charged with driving under the influence. After he was arrested, he went home and talked to his then-girlfriend, lobbyist Jude Malone, who later became his wife. Then, he said, he continued drinking.
The next day, Jude Malone drove him to the Beach Hill Hospital in Dublin, N.H., where he got sober for the first time in years during a 14-day stay. He came home and started attending meetings.
"I was petrified I'd never be able to have any fun again, because drinking was fun," he said. He kept going to AA meetings, and "kind of sort of got committed."
"I realized these people were having fun," he said. "I liked walking up feeling good."
Though he and Jude Malone divorced, they remain close friends. She said during a phone interview Thursday that she remembered driving him to New Hampshire and feeling "so scared" for him.
"I went to visit him there, and when he came home, our life changed amazingly for the better," she said. "We started hiking and he started playing golf. We had a quality of life that I don't know if one can appreciate when they're bearing this disease that kind of takes on a life of its own."
Now, she says, she couldn't be more proud of Malone and the work he does, both hands-on with helping clients and as an advocate for community-based programs.
Malone was working for U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Hartford, who at the time was a state senator. Malone said some in Hartford considered him a liability, but Larson gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Larson said by phone Thursday that everyone deserves a second chance and that Malone has a great work ethic, keen insights and was politically astute. He said once Malone decided to stop drinking, he displayed an incredible amount of discipline and restraint in an environment where alcohol is part of every socializing and networking event.
Larson said Malone is a perfect fit for the work he does.
"Who better?" Larson said. "Who's more knowledgeable and understanding and can relate to people and tell them how to get through the struggle and the torment? You couldn't find a better person."
Norwich attorney Paul F. Chinigo has known Malone since he was in high school and Chinigo coached him in Christian Youth Organization basketball. Malone had a great group of friends, Chinigo said, but he could smell alcohol on the teen-agers when they would huddle on the basketball court.
Chinigo represented Malone in his DUI case and the two remain friends.
"Even at his level, I've had him make calls to me and say, 'I've got this guy here. Can you help him out?' '' Chinigo said. "At the same time, Jack has always taken my call when I say, 'I've got a kid. Do you have a bed?' Jack will always go out of his way to do it."
Chinigo said he enjoyed knowing Malone as a kid but enjoys him much more as a sober adult.
"I'd like to say I've had many, many success stories," Chinigo said. "But I think Jack is truly an individual who has given so much more back than he's ever received."
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