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George O. McCann Jr., 60, director of drug-counseling center in city

George O. McCann Jr., who conquered addictions to drugs and alcohol and became executive director of Baltimore's Addict Referral and Counseling Center Inc., died of pulmonary fibrosis Sunday at Northwest Hospital Center, a day after his 60th birthday.

Mr. McCann was born in Baltimore, the son of a bookmaker and a Block stripper who placed him in the care of his grandmother.

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Raised in Pimlico, Mr. McCann began a slide into substance abuse early in life and dropped out of school.

While drinking one day in Robert E. Lee Park, near the tracks of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, he was hit by a train. The accident nearly severed his arm, which was saved by the quick work and skill of a Baltimore surgeon.

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A string of robberies led to a prison sentence at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, where he earned his GED diploma.

Still a heroin addict, in the late 1960s, he joined a state-operated counseling program in Baltimore under the direction of Dr. Laura McCall.

"He was one of 10 of her hardcore addicts, and I never dreamed he'd come out of it sober," said his wife of 36 years, the former Debra Bradshaw.

"I first met George when I was working as a bartender at Knight's Bar in Pimlico. People warned me not to go near him, but I saw a piece of goodness in him. I wanted to save him, but it was rough," she said. "I left him a couple of times, and then we decided to work on our addictions. I went to Al-Anon, and he went for counseling."

After Mr. McCann completed Dr. McCall's program, she offered him a job answering the phone and as a counselor trainee when she established Addict Referral and Counseling Center Inc. on West 25th Street in 1972.

"After getting off drugs, he lapsed into alcoholism, which is quite common for former drug addicts. He was proud that he had been drug-free for 32 years and sober since 1976," his wife said.

Mr. McCann rose through the center's ranks from counselor to clinical director. He was named executive director of the center when Dr. McCall retired in 1996.

The center treats 600 to 800 people a year through an abstinence program. Since its founding, 32,670 adults have been helped.

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"He did it all on his own. He believed the only one who can cure you is you," said Diane McKenzie, the center's administrator.

Mr. McCann spoke frequently to local and state government officials on substance abuse and the need for more funding and treatment centers.

"He'd say, 'I'm an addict. My name is George. Here's my story.' He knew that the treatment worked and it became his life's work. He had empathy for the addicted. He didn't care if the person had money or insurance. He felt if you needed help, you can come here. He was a most welcoming presence," Ms. McKenzie said.

"He was a role model because it was hard to look at this well-dressed, charming and quiet man and think that he was once a lost person. He didn't get depressed by his work; in fact, it made him more determined."

Mr. McCann was available at all hours. If someone needing a sponsor for Alcoholics Anonymous called in the middle of the night, he would go to that person.

"He'd never turn anyone down," Ms. McKenzie said.

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"He is a remarkable man. Most folks don't have the resume that George had. He experienced the life his clients lived, and he believed that the most downtrodden person needs an advocate and he was there to fill that position," said Joe Murtha, a Baltimore criminal lawyer and member of the center's board.

"He gives me hope that people are capable of recovery and that they can do anything they want once they're freed from the bondage of drugs and alcohol. He literally liberated thousands of them."

A memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 17 at the Addict Referral and Counseling Center, 21 W. 25th St.

In addition to his wife, Mr. McCann is survived by a son, George O. McCann III of Hampden; a stepson, Donald Bradshaw of Parkville; two sisters, Diane Merson of Kingsville and Jean Penner of Deltona, Fla.; and three grandchildren.


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