James Bryan, 75, Started Rehab Center

News

James Bryan, 75, started rehab center

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Beach Comber Rehab

By Pilar Ulibarri de Rivera

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Friday, December 02, 2005

Nearly three decades ago, James Bryan opened a small drug and alcohol rehabilitation center nestled in a quiet neighborhood just north of Gulf Stream.

The Beachcomber is said to be the longest-operating rehab center in Florida and has treated nearly 5,000 people.

Mr. Bryan, its founder, died Thursday of lung cancer. He was 75.

Mr. Bryan himself was treated for alcoholism more than 40 years ago in a Pennsylvania psychiatric ward, where addicts at the time were committed, said his son Joe Bryan, the Beachcomber’s director.

“One day people came by the ward and asked the patients if they wanted to go to an AA meeting,” said Mr. Bryan’s wife, Mona, referring to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bryan said her husband had never heard of the organization and was shocked to see alcoholics who had turned their lives around. He was also surprised to see that there were people willing to work without pay to help addicts.

Mr. Bryan, who had earned degrees in philosophy and business administration, decided he wanted to help others — and that, in turn, helped him stay sober for 41 years.

The Beachcomber resembles a bed-and-breakfast more than it does a rehab center. Its oceanside location and homey atmosphere make it unique, said Mona Bryan, a therapist before she retired, but its treatment philosophy makes it special: 16 clients interacting with four full-time therapists.

“I’ve worked in places where I had 22 people at a time and I didn’t know some of their names, which was not a good situation,” Mona Bryan said.

Mona Bryan was introduced to the Beachcomber 28 years ago as an intern. She left but eventually returned.

“It hasn’t changed much since then,” she said.

Mr. Bryan didn’t get caught up in the money-making aspect of what became a lucrative business once insurance companies began to cover treatment, his wife said.

He once discharged a wealthy client early because it was obvious the person didn’t want help and was disrupting others, Bryan said. In another case, he continued to treat a man whose insurance ran out during the four-week program.

According to the Beachcomber’s brochure, Delray Beach is home to one of the greatest concentrations of recovery programs in the country.

“The Beachcomber has set a high standard,” Mona Bryan said.

In addition to his wife and son Joe, Mr. Bryan is survived by sons James Jr. of Palmdale and Frank of Sacramento, Calif.; a daughter, Helene Bettinger of Alabama; five stepchildren, Donna Moyer, Linda Avalone and Matthew, Scott and Randy Hefelfinger; 27 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.