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Wright Words: Meet an alcoholic husband, father, bishop

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 10 2011 12:31 p.m. MDT

It’s not a movie plot, though it sure sounds like one. During World War II, John "Clele" Fletcher was told he’d never pass the physical and fulfill his deep desire to join the fight. Still, that didn’t stop him from trying.

Sadly, trying didn’t stop him from failing.

Out of chances and low on hope, Clele slipped into a depression fueled by a dangerous cocktail of guilt and shame. Many around him mocked and teased his misfortune.

“You should be overseas,” some whispered as he passed.

Others didn’t bother whispering at all.

It didn’t take long for the husband and father to find peace in the bottle. He drank to make the bad days good. He got drunk to make the good days even better.

He embarrassed his wife, siblings and parents. His children watched him slobber, stutter and collapse on the front yard of their Springville, Utah, home. The once strong, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had staggered from the straight and narrow path and become lost in the fog.

Later, Clele moved his family to Cannonville, a map-dot town in southern Utah. The move brought moments of hope, but not enough of them strung together for meaningful, permanent change. At one point, his long-suffering wife considered divorcing him, only to suffer two flat tires on the morning of her meeting with an attorney.

She never rescheduled.

After much work, sacrifice and prayer, after two extended stays for treatment at a hospital, Clele eventually became sober and founded an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter in the nearby town of Tropic, Utah.

Still, to his family’s dismay, he chose to spend the vast majority of his Sundays at home while his wife and children attended church. As they worshipped down the road, Clele sat in his favorite chair and worshipped his new passion — coffee.

Then, on one seemingly ordinary Sunday, his life changed forever with a simple knock on the door.

“Come in,” Clele said, and the new bishop of the Cannonville (Utah) Ward walked into the Fletcher family living room and right into history.

With the firmness of a righteous bishop, and with love in his heart and eyes, he said without hesitation, “Clele, I need you. The Lord and I want you to serve as a counselor in the bishopric. But to do so, you’ll need to make changes. Can you do that?”

He did.

Before the visit ended, Clele poured his coffee down the drain and began to understand for the first time that the Atonement isn’t simply an entry in the Bible dictionary, it was for him. The Savior’s sacrifice wasn’t just for the sins that make headlines, it was for alcoholics, the depressed, the lonely, and for all manner of pain: past, present or future.

Most importantly he discovered that the Atonement didn’t simply heal him, it healed the hurt he’d caused those he loved the most.

Clele served valiantly as a counselor and later was called as bishop. After retirement, he served a proselyting mission with his wife in Alaska. Still running strong, they were called to another mission in the St. George Utah Temple.

He continued laboring as a temple worker until the day he physically no longer could. Even though his mind and aged body certainly did not agree on the date.

There were ups and downs along the way and life was not without its struggles, but he remained firm and he kept his sacred covenants. Those who knew him say that he met his maker in peace and humble confidence. I would say the same.

Clele Fletcher is my grandfather.

He is my mother’s noble father, and I am honored and grateful to carry Fletcher as my middle name. I am also grateful for a good bishop who, acting upon revelation and with priesthood keys, knocked on my grandpa’s door and invited him to repent.

I wonder where my mother would be if Grandpa hadn’t embraced the Atonement. What of my two aunts and two uncles? What about my sweet grandmother? What about me?

They are questions I need not answer. Because today I am the grandson of a good husband, a loving and forgiven father, a righteous bishop and a recovered alcoholic.

What a privilege.

Jason F. Wright is the New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters,” and his latest, “The Seventeen Second Miracle.” He can be reached at www.jasonfwright.com.

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