ScoutingMay - June 2003

'The Best Scout I've Ever Seen'

By William David Jarvis
Illustration By Richard Sparks

A Scoutmaster's example and guidance helped his Scouts remain true to the ideals of the Oath and Law.

It's been more than 30 years since I was a Boy Scout in Troop 19 in Archdale, N.C. But I still remember Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent, as well as Be Prepared and Do a Good Turn Daily. After all these years, I still try to be these things. After half a lifetime the litany has become my heartbeat.

At some point along the line the Scout Law became more than a list of attributes to be attained, more than a mantra to be recited; it became part of who and what I am.

In the dusty corridors of my mind you can find a place where boys in olive green uniforms stand in lines shoulder to shoulder, saluting as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance and making the Scout sign as they repeat the Boy Scout Oath, Law, and motto. And in this, the crucible where young boys would begin to learn to become young men, the pestle was our Scoutmaster, Bill White.

He was a thickset man with a wry smile and a raspy voice that could freeze a delinquent in his tracks, and in 1970 I was more than a little bit afraid of Mr. White. (Even as an adult I have never called him Bill. Something about the set of his jaw and that sandpapery voice always commanded attention and respect, especially among his Scouts.)

He was always more than fair, and it was apparent he loved his boys, yet I never once saw anyone take advantage of his generosity or good nature. More to the point, I think part of the reason everyone respected Mr. White was because we knew he cared about us.

I had been a Boy Scout for several years when my father dropped by our troop meeting one Tuesday night. He sat talking with Mr. White near where we were working on merit badge requirements, and I overheard them discussing the weather, local politics, and other everyday trivia.

But then I heard Mr. White say, "Yeah, that David, he's the best Scout I've ever seen."

I froze. I certainly considered myself a good Scout, one who attended regularly, tried to behave himself, followed instructions, and one who would eventually even become an Eagle Scout.

But I never considered that I might be the best—or that someone would consider me as such. Other Scouts were faster, stronger, knew more knots, had more merit badges, were better leaders, and had achieved their ranks at younger ages.

The more I thought about it in the days that followed, the more responsibility I began to feel. I couldn't let Mr. White down. He was the man who spent so much time and effort on countless troop meetings, camping trips, and money-earning projects so we could have a Scout troop, and he thought I was the best.

In the years that followed, I heard Mr. White also say that all of his Scouts were the best he'd ever seen, and in his eyes, we were. You see, Mr. White could forgive us our frailties, our transgressions, and our adolescent errors—just as long as we remembered and were true to the ideals of Scouting expressed in the Oath and Law.

Over the years, my mother and father remained close to Mr. White and his wife, Nadine. When my father became bedridden, Mr. White would help out by starting a cranky lawnmower, handling some household repairs, continuing, like a good Scout, to Do a Good Turn Daily. But in November 2000, my mother telephoned with the news that Mr. White wouldn't be helping out any more; he had succumbed to the cancer he had been battling for so long.

I'm not sure I can fully explain what Mr. White and the Boy Scouts of America have meant to me. But I know that during my formative years, the Boy Scouts provided part of the moral compass that has remained resonant and vibrant as I have followed its heading.

And Mr. White? That's easy—he was the best one I've ever seen.

William David Jarvis is a dentist who lives in Rocky Mount, N.C. Most recently, he served as a den leader in Pack 16 in Red Oak, N.C. The above was adapted from his essay written for "Flatpick-L," an Internet mailing list devoted to the art of playing acoustic guitar in the style known as flat-picking.

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