Scouting magazine

From the Chief: Remembering the Legend

I met William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt when I was a Scout on staff at junior leader training. For a young person, getting a chance to talk for a few minutes to a Scouting icon was pretty exciting. If you aren’t familiar with Green Bar Bill, turn to page 30 for a detailed portrait of the man.

Bill always made an impression. He was inspirational with an infectious love for Scouting. He is a Scouting legend who got his nickname writing for Scouting and Boys’ Life magazines and had a big hand in shaping our movement, from the way the handbook is written to how Scout troops are structured. Bill had a big impact on the BSA — and on me personally.

Many years after our first meeting, while I was serving in Syracuse, N.Y., I had the chance to get to know Bill pretty well. We’d drive to and from Scouting events where he was a speaker, and he’d occasionally stay for visits at our camp facilities. Whenever we were together, Bill and I would talk about Scouting history. During his lifetime, Bill was active in our movement for more than 80 years — so, needless to say, he told me several stories you can’t find in books!

Later, when I was serving as a program director, we built the William Hillcourt Scouting Museum at Camp Woodland in New York. I will never forget the hot July night when the facility was dedicated. Green Bar Bill gave his famous “Serendipity” speech. I could never do it justice, but here’s a very short summary: Serendipity is a gift for finding valuable things one is not seeking, and a serendipitist is the person who does the finding. Bill proclaimed himself a serendipitist and explained that Scouting was one of the treasures he had found in life. Bill enraptured the crowd for the better part of three hours, which was a true feat, as it was probably 100 degrees in the room all evening. Bill took great pride in our movement’s history and had strong faith in its future. Passion like that is enthralling.

Bill was truly one of the thought leaders of our movement in many areas, but particularly in troop and patrol structure and training. Helping us understand how Scouts interact and can lead their peers while working collaboratively with adult advisors was a true gift he gave to the BSA. His contributions to the development of training at the youth level are immeasurable, and his legacy lives on today. Scouting has become known as the premier leadership development movement for young people, and that is in many ways thanks to Green Bar Bill. 

It was my honor to count Bill as a friend, and most importantly, a true mentor. I miss him every day.

Yours in Scouting,

Michael Surbaugh

Chief Scout Executive