A Brief Account | Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. and the BSA

When I look back on my early nonprofit professional experiences shortly after securing my Master’s Degree from The University of Texas at Austin, I did not fully realize how lucky I was to be in Austin in the 1980s and working at UT.

One of my earliest development positions was in the College of Fine Arts. That experience gave me statewide knowledge and professional contacts that would be helpful throughout my life and work. I took it for granted, however, being young and believing all “development” positions were like that one was for me.

From the Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries (Public Domain), 1973.

Even earlier in the late 1970s, I had been introduced to Governor Briscoe when he was serving as Governor of Texas. I was dating a young faculty member who had been invited to a reception with the Governor at the then relatively new LBJ Library. I remember being nervous, and getting dressed up in my best Saturday Night Fever inspired garb with high heels for the event. Such was the fashion at the time. My date and I stood in a receiving line at the Library and I will always remember the Governor greeting us warmly and reciting our names. He was known to have a phenomenal memory, in fact. He could remember your name long after he had met you, no matter how modest your station in life.

During the 1980s at UT, each college and division had a liaison in the main development office. My liaison was Janis Richards, wife of UT Regent Howard N. Richards. Howard was a trusted attorney for, and friend of Governor Briscoe, and for most of their adult lives. Janis mentored me about work and she also helped me in more personal ways, like learning how to dress for the job. She helped me navigate the internal politics of UT (which could be tricky), and helped me learn how to work with influential donors in the University’s fold, many of whom were alumni who hailed from across Texas. During that time, Governor Briscoe hosted a number of University receptions at his bank in Uvalde, First State Bank of Uvalde, and I attended some of them, which was a treat.

Years later during the 2000s when I was living and working in Corpus Christi, I accepted a year-long capital campaign preparation project for the South Texas Council, Boy Scouts of America. My father had been a scout, and his father – my late grandfather who lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico – had painted a formal portrait of the wife of one of the organization’s founders. Our family knew Scouting well and regarded it highly.

The mid-2000s was a trying time for the BSA nationally, with some missteps and camp accidents publicized widely in the media. This made setting the stage for and launching a capital campaign a challenge. I suggested the South Texas Council create a video that shared testimonials by distinguished Texans about the merits of Scouting. That video was created with the help of Joe Cook of Coastal Bend Video Services, and one of the leading Texans we wanted to interview was Governor Dolph Briscoe.

Now, it was well known that it would be tough to obtain an appointment with the Governor. I called upon my friends Janis and Howard Richards in Austin, and they made a discrete introduction. In truth, I was already interviewing other civic leaders for the video, and I had given up hope on the Governor. But then one day I got a call from his office. “Can you be here tomorrow?” YES I said. Joe, the Scout Executive and I piled into a car early the next morning and we drove five hours straight to Uvalde.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this post is that today some fourteen years later, the Boy Scouts of America is again facing significant challenges in terms of its public image. There is so much good in the Scouting program, and it has evolved greatly over the years. My hope is that it will remain strong, that its leadership will make internal improvements as needed, and that the BSA will survive and thrive.

I saved my 2005 transcript of our conversation with Governor Briscoe, and I share it with you, below.

To set the stage, we arrived at the bank a little early, the video team got settled in to the Governor’s private office, and he and I began to talk about Howard, UT, and about what he was doing at the time, which included a lot of reading. Governor Briscoe raved (an understatement) about his then-favorite book by Kerry McCan, “Gringo Verde: A Novel of Revolution and Redemption.” As an aside, I knew Kerry’s son Bob McCan from my prior work at Texas A&M University Kingsville. So, we had a lot to visit about.

Then once the Governor got comfortable, he said, “I’m ready.” Joe Cook jumped to attention at his camera and turned on the lights. Without one mistake or hesitation in his speech, Governor Briscoe shared the following.

“Scouting makes a difference. It makes a difference in the life of the young boy, but probably even more important than this, it makes a difference when that young person becomes an adult. And it makes a difference for the future of Texas for many reasons.

One main reason is that those who have had the benefit of the Scouting experience are not the problems of the present, and do not become the problems of the future. Today, our State government and its taxpayers support a very expensive system of enforcing law and order, a judicial system and a penal system. If we were able to reach more young boys with the Scouting program, the cost of those programs would decrease dramatically.

Those who have benefited from the Scout program do not create problems, nor do they require additional law enforcement that jams and clogs the judicial system, or overpopulate the penal system. The cost of government in the future would be greatly reduced if the Scouting program reached a much larger percentage of our young people.

Scouting makes a difference. It makes a difference in the lives of the boys who participate, and also in the communities in which they live and in which they participate. They become better citizens and retain a good citizenship attitude throughout their lives. Scouting builds a better community and a better way of life for everyone in that community. Scouting is one of the keys to a better Texas in the years ahead.

One of the great benefits of Scouting is also what an adult who supports Scouting gets out of being part of the Scout movement. When you see first hand how Scouting helps young boys – by having the chance to get to know Scouts individually – the good feeling one gets from these experiences means that Scouting does as much for the adult who participates as it does for the Boy Scouts themselves. Those of us who are older and who take the time to participate get as much or more out of the experience than the young boys themselves.

You have an opportunity, each of you, to invest in the future of our State and our country. You can invest either by investing your time, or you can invest your financial resources. Either way, you are playing an important part. I am asking you to invest your financial resources and your belief in our American system and in our State and country, and to build an even better America, by investing today in the Boy Scout movement. The Boy Scouts of America will definitely build a better America. There is no better investment a citizen can make today than to support Scouting. By doing so, you are investing in our future – for our children, grandchildren and all future generations.”

We were awestruck and could hardly move after he finished speaking. And that day remains one of our favorite lifetime experiences. It was also a truly a great day for Scouting.

The Foundation of Scouting

Scout Oath: On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Scout Mission: The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Dolph Briscoe 1989.14 Courtesy State Preservation Board, Austin, TX Photographer: Eric Beggs 12/5/95 pre conservation

To read a more recent discussion, follow the link to my post, “Be Strong, Sound and Secure: Supporting Uvalde” (2022).

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