Jere B. Ratcliffe, who served as the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive from 1993 to 2000, died Aug. 21, 2015. He was 78.
Ratcliffe, a Distinguished Eagle Scout, worked his way through the Scouting professional ranks in a career that included stops in South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas and Texas. He was involved in Scouting as a youth or professional for all or part of seven different decades: the 1940s to the 2000s.
During his time as the BSA’s ninth Chief Scout Executive, Ratcliffe helped elevate the organization’s outreach to at-risk youth, its finances and its connections to Scouting organizations from other countries.
As this Scouting Wire post explains, Ratcliffe’s legacy is seen all over Scouting.
Ratcliffe wanted to make sure every youth had the chance to be a Scout. That’s why he started Operation First Class, later called Scoutreach. The effort provided training and developed the resources necessary to serve at-risk youth in urban and rural areas.
His efforts to increase financial support for the BSA doubled local council endowments. He created the Nationally Coordinated Endowment Emphasis for that very reason. He also established the James E. West Fellowship, the 1910 Society and the Founders Circle — all meant to recognize major donors who support Scouting.
He also paved the way for improvements at each of the BSA’s high-adventure bases. Northern Tier built staff housing and warehouses. Philmont built an administration center, welcome center and classroom. Florida Sea Base built an administrative building, Scout dormitory and the Briton Environmental Center.
Ratcliffe traveled an average of 260 days a year for the BSA. He visited councils and organizations to promote Scouting to everyone who would listen. These travels took him overseas, too. He visited Guatemala, Peru, Poland, Thailand, Norway, South Africa and China. This rigorous schedule illustrated Ratcliffe’s desire to widen Scouting’s reach not just at home but also abroad.
A life built in Scouting
Jere B. Ratcliffe was born on the Fourth of July, 1937. He grew up in Springfield, Ohio, and earned the Eagle Scout rank in 1955 in Springfield’s Tecumseh Council. He earned the Silver Award in Exploring and his faith’s God and Life award.
Ratcliffe graduated from Wittenberg University, a small private college in Springfield. He then moved to Florida where he was a BSA volunteer with the North Florida Council in Jacksonville.
It’s then he decided to make Scouting his career. In February 1959, at age 21, Ratcliffe started work as a BSA field executive in Greenville, S.C. He became a district executive in Columbia, S.C., in 1961 and was promoted to assistant Scout executive there in 1967.
In May 1969, Ratcliffe was named Scout executive in West Palm Beach, Fla. That meant that at just 31 years old, Ratcliffe became the council’s top professional.
But Ratcliffe’s impressive rise was just beginning. He served as Scout executive in Clarksdale, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala., before joining the National Council in 1985 as director of finance.
After spending nearly four years as Scout executive in Kansas City, Mo., Ratcliffe was named director of the Central Region in 1991. That’s the position he held when, in February 1993, he became Chief Scout Executive.
Soon after being named Chief, Ratcliffe visited Brownsea Island in England, where Scouting got its start. It’s at that sacred place he was struck by the weight of what began there.
“You couldn’t help but think about how far this idea of Scouting has gone,” he told Scouting magazine. “It has affected hundreds of millions of people, yet the concept was so simple. Because of its mission and vision, it has become the strongest youth movement in the free world.”
In 1996, Clemson University awarded Ratcliffe an honorary doctorate to recognize his service to the university’s home state, South Carolina, and the nation as a whole. The citation read in part: “Mr. Ratcliffe has spent his life dedicated to the service of mankind through his professional career in Scouting and his volunteer efforts through various philanthropic and humanitarian organizations.”
When Ratcliffe retired in June of 2000, he stayed close to this strong youth movement. He volunteered at BSA events and regularly communicated with the many volunteers and professionals whose lives he touched during his impressive career.
Mr. Ratcliffe, thank you for your Scouting legacy. You will be missed.
List of BSA Chief Scout Executives through history
Including Ratcliffe, there have been only 13 Chief Scout Executives in our organization’s 105-year history. These are the 13 men who have served the BSA as our top professional:
- 1911–1943, James E. West
- 1943–1948, Elbert K. Fretwell
- 1948–1960, Arthur Schuck
- 1960–1967, Joseph A. Brunton Jr.
- 1967–1976, Alden G. Barber
- 1976–1979, Harvey L. Price
- 1979–1984, J. L. Tarr
- 1985–1993, Ben H. Love
- 1993–2000, Jere B. Ratcliffe
- 2000–2007, Roy Williams
- 2007–2012, Robert J. Mazzuca
- 2012–2015, Wayne Brock
- 2015– , Michael Surbaugh