Eagle Scout Rex Tillerson named secretary of state

rex-tillerson-in-scout-uniformUpdated, Feb. 1, 2017

Rex Tillerson, a Distinguished Eagle Scout, Silver Buffalo Award recipient and past national president of the Boy Scouts of America, is the nation’s secretary of state.

Tillerson is the latest Distinguished Eagle Scout to reach a cabinet position. That lengthy list includes former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, former Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner and former Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo D. West Jr.

Despite a busy career leading ExxonMobil — with its 80,000 employees and $19 billion in annual earnings — Tillerson has remained a devoted advocate of Scouting throughout his professional life.

In 2015, at the National Order of the Arrow Conference in Michigan, Tillerson spoke in front of what he called “the largest group of Eagle Scouts that I’ve ever had the privilege to stand before.”

He said Scouts are special because they have personal integrity.

“People trust you. They count on you,” he said to the nearly 5,000 Eagle Scouts gathered. “Your personal integrity, once established and earned, people don’t have to think about it. They know. They know you. They know you’ll do the right thing every time.”

Supporting the Main Thing

For the better part of 50 years, Tillerson has been speaking passionately about the transformative power of Scouting.

He carves out time to attend national-, council- and unit-level Scouting events.

And he’s fond of emphasizing what he calls the Main Thing. The Main Thing, he says, has been the same since the start: to serve more youth in Scouting.

“Our objective is to get them captured, get them into this structure that is Scouting,” Tillerson told Eagles’ Call magazine for our Winter 2017 issue. “If we can capture them for three or four years, we’ll change the adults they’ll become; I know that as sure as I live and breathe today.”

tillerson-ec-coverEagles’ Call Winter 2017 cover story

Eagles’ Call, the official magazine of the National Eagle Scout Association, went to press with our Winter 2017 issue in early December. That was nearly two weeks before Tillerson’s name was made public as the choice to lead the Department of State.

The magazine cover story dives into Tillerson’s time in Scouting — beginning as a member of Troop 20 in Stillwater, Okla. It takes readers through his career at ExxonMobil and his time leading the BSA as its top national volunteer.

We’d like to say we planned it this way. In truth, the story is a happy coincidence of timeliness.

You can read the full story in the Winter 2017 issue. Here are some excerpts from Mark Ray’s story:

EXCERPT: Leading With Integrity

By Mark Ray

You could say Rex Tillerson’s path to the corner office began on a portage trail in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario.

As a 14-year-old Scout from Stillwater, Okla., the future ExxonMobil CEO traveled to the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base for a 10-day paddling adventure. But adventure turned to anxiety the first time he tried to portage a canoe from one lake to another; his 115-pound body was no match for a canoe that weighed upward of 85 pounds.

“I had gone about 15 or 20 yards, and I just couldn’t do it,” he recalls. “I was ready to quit; I was in tears.”

Fortunately, Tillerson’s crewmates, who themselves were struggling with heavy tents and food bags, helped him hoist the canoe onto his shoulders. He survived the portage and improved his technique to the point that he needed no help when his third turn to carry the canoe came around.

Fifty years later, the Distinguished Eagle Scout and Silver Buffalo Award recipient can still recall the confidence boost he got from that experience.

“That has stayed with me all my life,” he says. “There’s never been anything I didn’t feel like I could conquer.”

Self-confidence is far from the only thing Scouting taught him. As a member of Troop 20, he learned the leadership lessons that have helped him excel as a manager and executive.

“ExxonMobil has great training programs, but that’s not where I got it,” says Tillerson, whose college degree is in engineering, not management.

Tillerson’s leadership training began in his Scout patrol, where he first watched older Scouts lead and then became a leader himself — always under the watchful eyes of adults. Sometimes he had to lead his peers, sometimes he had to lead younger Scouts, and occasionally he had to lead Scouts who were older and more experienced.

“If you think about that model, it’s very, very similar to what we encounter in the business world,” he says. “As a leader, you’re always going to have people who are less capable than you; that’s representative of the younger Scouts. You have people who are as capable as you; that’s your peers. And you have people who are maybe more capable than you, but you have been put in a position where you’ve got to lead them. And you’ve got to interface with someone you’re accountable to; that’s the adult leaders.”

A Lifetime in Scouting

Rex Tillerson was born to be a Scout. His maternal grandfather, Ray Patton, had been a Scout in the early days of Scouting and later led the troop in which his father, Bob, became an Eagle Scout. Among his earliest memories are visits to Camp Perkins near Wichita Falls, Texas, where his father had been a staff member and where his parents had met.

After World War II, Tillerson’s father became a Scoutmaster and Order of the Arrow lodge advisor in Wichita Falls. He drove a bread truck, but eventually quit (taking a pay cut) to become a BSA district executive. The family moved to Vernon, Texas, where Tillerson became a Cub Scout and where his mother, Patty, was his den leader.

Tillerson became an Eagle Scout, was inducted into the Order of the Arrow, attended the 1969 National Scout Jamboree, went to Philmont and the Boundary Waters, and joined an Explorer post. Like his dad, he served on camp staff for several years, stopping only when he had to pursue summer jobs that supported his coursework at the University of Texas. When not studying engineering, he was active in Alpha Phi Omega, the Scouting-affiliated service fraternity.

Like many former Scouts, Tillerson stepped away from the program until he had children. He then jumped back in, serving as Cubmaster twice and also as assistant Scoutmaster. His son, Tyler, is an Eagle Scout. When Tillerson moved to Dallas with Exxon, he joined the executive board of the Circle Ten Council and eventually joined the National Executive Board. Before becoming national president, he served as honorary chairman of the Generations Connections program, the facet of the BSA’s 100th anniversary celebration that commended how Scouting values and traditions are shared across generations. Given his own Scouting story, it was an appropriate assignment.


  1. As a very proud parent of a Boy Scout who is working on becoming on Eagle Scout….I have a great deal of respect for the Eagle Scouts in the history of Scouting. I am an American citizen and I do take into question an Eagle Scout who has taken the vow “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country……” I do not see that Rex Tillerson has done his bes to honor his country in his business transactions with Russia. And I will teach my Boy Scout son that.

    • Mrs. Wallace, congratulations on being a Mom of a not yet, Eagle Scout.
      On the other hand, Rex Tillerson’s Mom (if she was living at the time of his Eagle BOR) was a proud Mom of an Eagle Scout!
      Sorry for the sarcasm and I do hope your son achieves his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.
      However, I have taught my son, an Eagle Scout, not to instantly believe anything, including a political attack, until all of the facts are in. I have also taught him to be very careful as to who is giving you the “facts” because they may have ulterior motives.
      It might be best for all of us not to use this great forum for our political beliefs.
      Mr. Rex Tillerson has been a great supporter of scouting and a great Eagle Scout. I’m sure, like all of us, he has not been a perfect person. Hopefully, he will do well if he becomes Secretary of State. We could certainly use a lot more Eagle Scouts in Washington DC. In the meantime, I’ll wait to hear the facts and I hope we get them without a political agenda attached. I, for one, will not be holding my breadth.

    • Mrs. Wallace – In the interests of full disclosure, I am so conservative that I have told people that when I go into a place that serves chicken wings, I only order right wings.

      I would rather not have us doing any business with one of the most corrupt regimes in modern history (Russia).

      That being said, if you are going to indict someone for business dealings with Russia, you owe it to the man to make full disclosure of those things that you feel are not honorable. As a CEO, his duty is to his stockholders, and if he ignores business opportunities in energy in Russia then he is not fulfilling his fiduciary duty to them.

      His focus should be, of course, on what strengthens his country, also. To make a blanket condemnation without any specifics does not serve you well.

      I disagreed with him on the scout membership changes. Now, however, I have not seen any changes in the way scouting is presented..

      I am hopeful that he will make a good secretary of state. I doubt that he will be one like a previous one who used her foundation to enrich herself, who signed off on the transfer of much of our uranium to Russia.

      Give him a chance – don’t develop in your son the cynicism o have that will cause him to judge people unfairly

  2. I must agree with Ms. Wallace. I don’t understand how an Eagle Scout could have business ties with Russia. It seams he’s in their back pockets. I’m still having trouble explaining to my Scouts how a person who does not follow one point of the Scout Law could become President? I know I’ll be getting all thumbs down, sorry, just using my First Amendment Rights. BTW: I’m a old Eagle, and so is my Son.

  3. Congratulations to Rex. As a fellow Eagle Scout and writer, I value the bond of Scouting far more than political ideology. And while I do not like Vladimir Putin, I have many Russian friends and see the nation itself as a friend. As another person wrote, it’s important to teach Scouts not to jump to conclusions based on information provided by the dysfunctional news media. I urge Scouts to hear people out, and look forward to Rex’s confirmation hearing.

  4. I’m sorry but Scouting taught me that we should respect the environment and this man has constantly worked against that even going so far as to deny climate change…like how do you deny science??

  5. It is not just that Tillerson denied climate science, but that he changed the trajectory of a major oil corporation’s public stance on the issue. My parents were engineers in the energy industry. They and their peers not only accepted but also preached that the use of fossil fuels in the age of industrialization had so altered the carbon cycle as to change the environment and put all living organisms in danger. By turning ages-old underground deposits of coal, tar, and petroleum into atmospheric carbon dioxide, we had been, have been, and still are turning our planet into not just a greenhouse but a car in the sun with its windows rolled up. Research into nuclear, solar, wind power, and even the harnessing of the tides was considered vital because it was the path to preserving our standard of living without ruining our planet. That was the 1960s. By the 1980s, that attitude had changed. Under Tillerson, ExxonMobil led a campaign of misinformation that convinced many of us that the physicists, chemists, and engineers working for him could neither agree that global warming was already occurring nor figure out whether we had a role in it. Because too many of us fell for it, policies were changed. But the laws of the Universe have never changed in response to what we are duped into believing, and the result will be that much of the world will be too hot for Scouts to get outside in the summer. If that doesn’t happen in the lifetimes of our younger Scouts today, then it definitely will in the lifetimes of their grandchildren. And losing the option to play outside in the summer will be the least of their worries. With Scouting’s dual emphasis on STEM and conservation, we should be educating today’s youth that the climate is changing, we triggered it, and we can undo at least some of the damage. Instead, too many of us are championing people who will profit most if we all ignore what we have learned through science. Few people had a role as significant as Tillerson’s in leading our society astray, and many of us are overjoyed to see him and other leaders of this Ostrich Conspiracy elevated to positions of leadership. Sad.

  6. I believe Mr. Tillerson was an inspired choice by President Elect Trump. I was lucky enough to be involved with the Boy Scouts Explorer Program and was involved in every aspect including up through the Council and the Regional Level. I was honored to earn the Bronze Big Horn Award. I also received an award for “Fast Thinking and Bravery” for my actions at the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire in Southgate KY. When I graduated from Miami of Ohio I became a District Scout Executive in Anderson Indiana. I was trained at the Executive Management Institute in Texas. I can assure everyone that anyone who was involved in the Boy Scouts at the level that Mr. Tillerson was, has integrity, intelligence, tenacity and drive with excellent leadership skills to hold the position of Secretary of State. BTW, I am a woman.

  7. I’d like to know what Mr. Tillerson thinks of the BSA’s decision this week to admit transgendered members into the scouts. – based on the potential lawsuit by the parents of ONE young girl who feels that she should have been born as a boy.

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