The lesser-known Scouting connections of philanthropist and oilman T. Boone Pickens

Photo of T Boone Pickens
T. Boone Pickens at a 2012 TED Talk. (Photo by James Duncan Davidson, used under Creative Commons license.)

T. Boone Pickens, the former Boy Scout, oil tycoon and philanthropist who once donated $250,000 to support local Scouting, died on Wednesday at age 91.

As one might expect, most of this week’s news stories have documented Pickens’ success in the energy business or his ties to Oklahoma State University. But today, I wanted to share some of Pickens’ connections to the Boy Scouts of America.

Here’s what we know.

1. Pickens was a Boy Scout.

Thomas Boone Pickens Jr. was born May 22, 1928, in Holdenville, Okla. He said he learned the value of hard work, thriftiness and time management from his parents.

Those skills were reinforced through a number of after-school activities: playing the clarinet, participating in sports — and becoming a member of the Boy Scouts of America.

“Mother made sure my free time was spent in ways she considered productive,” Pickens wrote in his 2000 autobiography Luckiest Guy in the World.

2. Pickens loved being outside.

In 2017, Pickens decided to sell his Mesa Vista Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. The 64,809-acre property, listed for $250 million, sits on a picturesque stretch of the Canadian River.

In the brochure for the property, Pickens noted that his ties to that river went back eight decades.

“Growing up in Holdenville, Okla., I once walked 5 miles down to the Canadian River — and back — to earn a Boy Scout merit badge,” he wrote. “Today, 80 years later, that very same Canadian River remains a prominent part of my life.”

The ranch has not yet been sold. And the merit badge? I assume he was referring to Hiking — any other guesses?

Pickens also advocated for renewable energy and the urgent need to protect the planet. In short, he wanted those outdoors spaces he enjoyed as a boy to be preserved for future generations.

3. Pickens gave $250,000 to a BSA local council.

Pickens never forgot about his Scouting roots.

In 2008, his T. Boone Pickens Foundation donated $250,000 to the BSA’s Last Frontier Council in Oklahoma.

The money helped the council expand its STEM offerings at the Slippery Falls Scout Ranch near Tishomingo, Okla. (The camp is now known as Kerr Scout Ranch at Slippery Falls.)

“I’ve long appreciated and supported Scouting and the ideals it represents,” Pickens said at the time of the donation. “This project involves subjects that have played a significant role in my life. I enjoy being able to support this program and the citizens of the future Scouting is producing in my native state.”

4. Pickens signed Eagle Scout congratulatory letters.

Whenever a young person becomes an Eagle Scout, their parents or Scout leaders often share that news with community leaders, sports stars and celebrities. This practice, which I’ve covered frequently on this blog, is done in hopes that the person might respond with a signed congratulatory letter.

Given his affinity for the BSA, it’s no surprise that Pickens’ name appears in several unofficial databases of individuals known to respond to requests for Eagle letters.

I wasn’t able to find an example of a Pickens-signed Eagle letter, but if you or your Scout has received one, please share a photo in the comments below.

5. Pickens took “help other people at all times” seriously.

Pickens appeared on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the year’s top 50 donors an impressive five times. That’s not all that surprising for someone who grew up reciting the Scout Oath and its challenge “to help other people at all times.”

It’s said he gave away $1 billion during his lifetime, but it’s the little stories that impress me most.

Like the time when, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Pickens paid $50,000 to fly 80 dogs and 20 cats on a chartered jet to safety in California.

6. Pickens incorporated the Boy Scout motto into his business dealings.

In a piece he wrote for Forbes earlier this year, Pickens shared his thoughts on leading others — especially those who might be more than 60 years his junior.

“You lead by example,” he wrote. “You don’t run over your personnel, but you don’t pump them up with false praise either. And one of the most important lessons I could imprint upon these young minds was the old Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.”

In Pickens, we see a reminder that the lessons learned in Scouting stay with you forever, informing decisions you make throughout your life.

About Bryan Wendell 2893 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.