Mike Enzi, Distinguished Eagle Scout and former U.S. senator, dies at 77

Sen. Mike Enzi shook hands with Explorer Gisselle Lugo at the BSA’s Report to the Nation visit in 2020. (BSA file photo)

Mike Enzi, a Distinguished Eagle Scout who represented Wyoming for 24 years in the U.S. Senate before retiring in January, died on Monday — three days after he was injured in a bicycle accident. He was 77.

Enzi was known in Washington as a consensus-builder — a man whose “80-20 rule” challenged fellow senators to consider the 80% of an issue where they agree instead of fixating on the 20% where they don’t.

“There’s a lot of vitriol in our politics and our world right now, but you can stay true to what you believe in without treating others badly,” Enzi said in his Senate farewell address last year. “Just ask yourself: Has anyone ever really changed your opinion by getting in your face and yelling at you or saying to you how wrong you are?”

Even as his political prominence in Washington increased, Enzi remained a fervent supporter of Scouting. He spoke often and publicly about his Scouting roots.

“When I was in Scouts, I remember working on Citizenship in the Nation merit badge, and I thought, ‘When am I going to use this?’” Enzi told a gathering of Eagle Scouts in 2018. “Now I use it every day.”

He also went beyond words and into action. In 2016, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson signing the bill that granted federal incorporation to the Boy Scouts of America, Enzi introduced a Senate resolution formally marking the occasion.

“The congressional charter has helped the Boy Scouts become one of the largest youth organizations in the United States,” he said. “In fact, it is estimated that more than 110 million Americans have served as members within its ranks. Scouting offers those 110 million young people friendship, an opportunity to set positive goals and outdoor experiences. But above all, Scouting is about building character and service.”

Sen. Mike Enzi met with the delegates who presented the BSA’s Report to the Nation in 2019. (BSA file photo)

A challenge accepted

Michael Bradley Enzi was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Bremerton, Wash. His family later moved to Wyoming, where he attended school in the cities of Thermopolis and Sheridan. In 1957, Enzi became an Eagle Scout.

Enzi later said that his motivation for earning Scouting’s highest honor was a Scout leader who gave him a challenge. If Enzi wanted to attend the 1957 National Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, he’d need to earn Eagle first.

Enzi did, and he’s been proud of his achievement ever since.

“Put Eagle Scout on your résumé for the rest of your life,” Enzi said in 2019. “No matter how old you are, no matter whether you’re applying for a job with somebody who isn’t a Scout. They know the value of that badge.”

When Enzi’s son, Brad, joined Scouting, the father encouraged the son to keep on reaching toward his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. Sometimes, Mike Enzi even got some unexpected help in sharing this message, as he told Alvin Townley for his 2007 book, Legacy of Honor.

“I remember being in a camping store, REI in Fort Collins, I believe,” Enzi said in the book. “The guy waiting on us asked Brad if he was a Scout. Brad said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ And the guy said, ‘I used to be. I was Life; I never got Eagle. Man, don’t make that mistake.’ And Brad turned to me and said, ‘OK, Dad, how much did you pay him to say that?’”

Jackson with Sen. Mike Enzi
Eagle Scouts Jackson Rogers and Sen. Mike Enzi at the 2017 National Jamboree. (Courtesy of Jackson Rogers)

The power of Scouting

But Mike Enzi also believed that all young people who experience Scouting leave with confidence and skills that will serve them for life. That’s true even of those who don’t become Eagle Scouts.

“If you’ve been in Scouts, no matter how far you got, you learn things that nobody else learns,” he said in 2016. “There’s no other place that you can learn those things.”

Enzi also believed “those things” learned in Scouting can help young people find a meaningful, well-paying job.

Years ago, Enzi was interviewing candidates for staff positions. He had narrowed the field to a few finalists and asked one applicant whether he was in any youth activities growing up.

“Well, yes, I was in Boy Scouts,” the candidate said.

“So how far did you get?” Enzi asked.

“Well, I was an Eagle.”

“You know,” Enzi told him, “if you had put that on your résumé, we wouldn’t have needed this interview.”

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.