If you don’t know George Rodrigue by name, you certainly know his work. You’ve probably seen his iconic, whimsical Blue Dog paintings, and if you have, they’ve probably brightened your day.
But today I want to remember George, who died Saturday at age 69, for something many who knew his work didn’t know about the mostly private man.
He was an Eagle Scout. And even more, a Distinguished Eagle Scout.
Growing up in New Iberia, La., George loved the outdoors and spent all the time he could at the Evangeline Area Council’s Camp Thistlethwaite.
As his artistic interest grew, so did his national and international prominence. That’s when he did what any successful Eagle Scout would: a Good Turn. Or, more accurately, a series of Good Turns.
Through the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, he shared his passion with young people and supported a variety of art education programs.
After 9/11, he donated proceeds for his “God Bless America” painting — at least $500,000 — to the American Red Cross. After Hurricane Katrina, he painted several Blue Dogs and donated the proceeds to United Way, the International Child Art Foundation and the Red Cross. (That information came from this Gambit blog post, which is by far the best euology I could find for the man.)
It’s this generosity, combined with his professional success, that led the Boy Scouts of America to present George with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 2011.
But his embodiment of Scouting values dates back much further. And it included his first date with his wife.
Always an Eagle
In 2010, Wendy Rodrigue, on her blog Musings of an Artist’s Wife, wrote about her husband’s Eagle Scout past:
It was probably our first date when I asked George Rodrigue,
“How would you describe yourself? What are your best qualities?”
Without hesitating, he rattled off a list:
“I am trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
“Goodness,” I said, secretly hoping I could measure up.
It wasn’t until months later, after he’d repeated this list a number of times for various reasons, that I learned it was the Boy Scout Law, something he memorized nearly sixty years ago and has taken seriously ever since.
Wendy’s blog post shares stories about George selling monster paintings to his friends to earn gas money, earning a scholarship to Philmont and in 1960 being too sick to attend his own Eagle Scout Court of Honor.
“… 16-year old George, home sick with the mumps, missed the Eagle Scout presentation,” she writes. “His cousin Red stood in for him at the courthouse and afterwards the entire troop visited George at home and pinned his pajamas.”
More than 50 years after earning the Eagle Scout Award, George Rodrigue earned the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, becoming one of only six Eagle Scouts from the New Orleans area to receive the honor.
“Never have I seen George Rodrigue so excited about an award,” Wendy wrote.
George is now gone, but his work — both the kind you can hang on a wall and the kind you can’t physically see — will live forever.