I got word over the weekend that Warren Dale passed away. He was 90.
The name means nothing to you, probably, but for years upon years in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mr Dale was a demigod. He led what must have been one of the most successful and delightful Boy Scout Troops ever — at least if you measure by how often his Tenderfoots made it Eagle.
Mr Dale taught us to camp, and imparted the mysteries of square lashing, and all sorts of other Scouting ephemera — but the real lessons were more subtle. How to be a good man. What mattered, when working with others. How to lead. How to teach. How to support each other. How to cut loose and have fun, even. He was especially skilled at gaining and holding the respect and attention of both his rambunctious charges and their parents, which is no small feat. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, outside my family, Mr Dale was the most important influence on me prior to high school. I’m by no means the only person in that group.
Boy Scouting has had a hard several years lately, mostly through their own tomfoolery and the outsized influence of right-wingers obsessed with exclusion. That kind of chicanery would never have flown with Mr Dale. I know, without ever having discussed it with him, exactly the sort of irritated look I’d get if I’d suggested it was okay to treat someone differently because of race, or gender, or orientation. It’s out of the question and completely contrary to the ethics of scouting as we understood it. You work together. There’s no together in exclusionary bullshit. It’s certainly not covered in “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”
Here’s his obituary. He was born in 1926, in Iowa, which is something I never knew before. He’d been in the war, stateside, as a cryptologist and clerk before heading to Purdue and, eventually, to the chemical plant in my hometown where he worked from 1952 until he retired in 1989.
Mr Dale never stopped learning, and he helped impart a passion for it to us in Scouting. He was a master of a campfire story, a patient teacher, and excelled in that curious talent of teaching boys to lead themselves. Along the way, he saw 140 of us all the way to Eagle, many of whom have posted on Facebook about their own memories of our troop, or Camp Tiak, or trips to Red Bluff, or his battered station wagon, or various service projects undertaken as a team. It’s all time well spent.
90 years is a long time; my stepfather used to joke that anybody over three score and ten was on borrowed time, but Mr Dale managed to run up the score a bit. (He’d have liked that joke.) I last saw him a little over a year ago; he attended the same church as my mother, and so I saw him when I visited. Erin even got to meet him, which pleased me more than I can adequately explain. He was much older, but he still had quite a twinkle in his eye, and it made me happy to see him.
The obituary notes that the quote Mr Dale chose to be remembered by is from Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Given that metric, there’s no doubt in my mind that he lived very well indeed.