Few men can hope to impact the world as William
Hillcourt did. An immigrant to the United States from Denmark in 1926,
Bill became a major factor in the growth and development of the Boy Scouts
of America. His handbooks and BOYS LIFE articles defined the Scout
movement for millions of boys spanning decades. His Boy Scout Handbooks
have been published in copies by the millions and translated into dozens
of languages throughout the world; it has been estimated that those Scout
Handbooks were only out numbered by Dr. Spock’s Baby Book and the Bible in
total circulation. He worked with every Chief Scout Executive since James
West, was the first Deputy Camp Chief for American Wood Badge, introduced
the patrol method to the B.S.A., authored the definitive biography of his
close friend Baden-Powell and more than thirty other books on Scouting and
the outdoors. Bill Hillcourt loved and lived Scouting through the very end
of his life; a life that, even at 92 years, ended surprisingly and too
soon while on a worldwide tour in the name of Scouting.
Scoutmaster to the World
In the beginning there was Lord Baden-Powell, the hero of the siege of Mafeking
in the Boer War. He wrote Scouting for Boys and started the Boy Scout
movement in Britain.
And there was Ernest Thompson Seton, who wrote
stories about wildlife, designed woodcraft games for boys, and was the
chief scout in the what was shaping up to be an American Scouting
movement. And there was William Boyce, who was so impressed by an unknown
English Scout who helped him find his way on a foggy night in London, and
then refused a tip, that he decided to bring Scouting to America. And
Daniel Carter Beard, first Scout commissioner. And James D. West, first
Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America.
And there was a young Dane, in his twenties,
floating around the fledgling BSA program, right in the mix of all of
these other men. He was head strong and sure of himself. He was one of the
first boys in the world to have experienced Baden-Powell's new movement,
and was about to become one of the greatest contributors to the
development of youth in modem history.
Bill Hillcourt became the hero of millions of boys
and adults. He introduced the patrol method to America, wrote more than
thirty books on Scouting and the outdoors, and played the most prominent
role in developing the program of Scouting for decades. Many people could
tell the story of William Hillcourt. Perhaps, given his prolific literary
contributions to the organization, it is most appropriate that he be
remembered with his own words. Below is an autobiographical sketch,
prepared by Bill before his death in November, 1992.
The Life of a
By William Hillcourt
Did you ever hear the story of the King of Serendip? He had three sons. He was proud of
them and saw to it that they had the very best upbringing. He brought in the finest
swordsmen and athletes of his kingdom to coach them in all the fitness skills of a true
knight. He had the wisest men of the country teach them about the world and its wonders.
He himself taught them kingship: how to rule with compassion and fairness.
He loved his three sons equally well. But as he grew old, he wondered which of them
would make the best king when his own days were up. He decided to put them to the test: He
sent them out into the world with one year to find a very special treasure. When the year
was up, they returned.
All three had failed! Not one of them had found the treasure he had been sent out to
find. BUT-each of them had found a treasure far more precious than any their father could
Out of this story of the King of Serendip have come two words for the English language:
serendipity, a gift for finding valuable things not sought for, and serendipitist, the
person who does the finding.
Columbus, the greatest serendipitist of all time, became one at the age of 41. I
became one at 25. The treasure Columbus sought was the fulfillment of his dream of finding
India by sailing west. Mine was the fulfillment of a similar dream: of circling the globe