At age 96, Gilbert Lee is proof that the values of Scouting last a lifetime. Which can be a very long time indeed. A resident of Los Angeles, the lifelong Scouter served as a Scoutmaster and commissioner for 25 years and received the Silver Beaver Award in 1967. After officially retiring from Scouting, he continued to serve on Eagle Scout boards of review until just a few years ago, helping to pass the torch of Scouting to a new generation.
Lee first picked up that torch in a surprising place, Kodaikanal, India, where his father was building a steel mill in the early 1920s. Lee attended an American mission school there and was recruited by the principal to start a Scout troop. The principal, a Dr. Wilson, managed to pull together some Scout gear but pretty much left Lee on his own. "I was acting sort of as patrol leader, Scoutmaster, the whole ball of wax," he said. "Dr. Wilson would generally supervise us, but he really didn't have much time to devote to it."
Lee had plenty of time, however, and became an Eagle Scout a few years later. He received the award in India; then, upon his return to Massachusetts, he was recognized again at a ceremony featuring Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge.
It was not his last brush with political royalty. The governor of California, a man named Ronald Reagan, presented him his Silver Beaver 40 years later.
In between, however, Lee served as Scoutmaster in North Hampton, Mass., and Los Angeles, where he spent a career as an electrical field engineer for the city's Department of Water and Power.
Lee acknowledged that he doesn't have much in common with today's Eagle Scouts - except being an Eagle Scout. "It really puts the finishing touch on the individual and what his future is going to be like," he said.
The badge is an award, but it's also a call to service. "It's something you hope to carry on and spread out among others you know," he said. Which is just what Gil Lee has been doing for more than 70 years.