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Remembering a humble counselor with a huge impact

March 20, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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More than three months after addiction counselor Clyde Bertram passed away at the age of 92, memories of the kind, funny, advice-offering man who associates say never complained live on in those who had the opportunity to meet him.

The Nova Scotia native had spent 15 years in the printing business, which brought him to Philadelphia.  As he was recovering from the first of two heart-bypass surgeries, he began training through a state jobs program as an addiction counselor.  He worked at several suburban halfway houses, and in 1993, he began at Livengrin as a counselor at the age of 75.

“When he came to Livengrin, he was the weekend counselor/staff person. If there were problems, Clyde would be the person that you would go to in order to help solve those issues,” says Cheryl Jennings, AHS, CAC, CCDP, manager of detox & utilization review services.

After retiring, Livengrin held a celebration banquet to honor his work at the organization. Those that knew him, say that he didn’t warm up to the idea of not working. Bertram felt that there was a wall in his life, so he began going back to Livengrin on the weekends to sit with staff, help out with visitations, and give lectures. 

Arlene Clemick, aftercare coordinator at Livengrin, refers to Bertram as ‘the Energizer bunny’ and recalls that even in his early 90s, he loved spending time at the treatment center to offer mentorship and advice to those in recovery. She says he always put a positive spin on everything and would always sit and chat with patients who were new to rehab and who looked like they were struggling.  By the time Bertram was done talking, the person’s attitude would be transformed from one of fear or discouragement, to a more positive outlook, Clemick explains.  

Because of his humble attitude, Bertram requested that there not be a memorial service for him after his death. Instead, Livengrin will be hosting a memorial breakfast on April 7.

Bertram wrote a book about his life and recovery titled “60 Years an Alcoholic, 50 Years Without a Drink” (self-published, 1995) and would often give copies away to clients who were struggling. Because he didn’t “toot his own horn,” he wrote the book under a pseudonym, Freeman Carpenter. Freeman was his middle name and Carpenter was his estranged father’s trade. He used it as a way of honoring his father and showing that he had forgiven him for deserting the family when Bertram was 16.

Bertram was always sharing his personal stories with those that he encountered, and in the March issue of the AA Grapevine, a magazine that is published for the recovery community, one of Bertram’s stories about recovery comes to life on the pages. Jennings says she doesn’t think that the Grapevine knew that Bertram had died before it published his story, which was about the turning point in his recovery.  “He worked as a cashier in a restaurant and stole money, but then all of a sudden he felt like God wanted him to stop and since he ran the cash register, he returned the money and never did it again,” explains Jennings.

'Sundays with Clyde'

Warren Bernstein, now a member of the rehab staff, reminisces about the first time he met Bertram.  After relapsing and entering recovery, Bernstein volunteered at Livengrin and remembers Bertram as “an endearing, approachable older gentleman with a lot of wisdom.”

In the past few years, he says their friendship grew as Bertram sat with him every Sunday while he worked full-time in the visitation area. Bernstein says he also involved Bertram in the detox program where he would often host a meeting.

Since Bertram lived on his own, Bernstein also helped him get set up with a computer and even got him on Facebook. The two spent many hours talking about life and its complexities. These discussions were sometimes funny and sometimes serious, but always meaningful, according to Bernstein.

Although he knew Bertram’s passing would come soon, Bernstein says it was very abrupt for him. “It was always a good feeling when I would come in on Sundays, and there would be a message waiting from Clyde telling me what time he’d be in,” he recalls.

He likens their relationship to the one chronicled in the book and movie “Tuesdays with Morrie,” except in his case, of course it was “Sundays with Clyde.”

It's never too late to learn

Bertram, was known for always wearing “a suit jacket, pressed pants, and shiny shoes,” says Clemick. He was a lifelong learner and enjoyed attending AA meetings even in his 90s, “because he could talk to people and assist people but always said that he learned so much from them too,” she says.

Jennings remembers monitoring patients at weekly meetings at Livengrin ans says that up until the point where Bertram fell and broke his hip at age 90, he drove himself to these meetings. He also drove himself to weekly AA meetings, and when it reached the point where he wasn’t able to get to the meetings, oftentimes people would take support to his home.

Jennings met Bertram as soon as she entered the field in 1987.  Although she had met him when she first started at Livengrin, she didn’t know him too well, but soon encountered him as she had to be certified as a Certified Addictions Counselor. He was on the panel for the certification board, and served as one of the “testers” as she was being tested.