Robert Beresford Williams, Distinguished Eagle Scout Award
The Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (DESA) is the highest national award of the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA). Each of the recipients has risen to a state of fame or eminence in his chosen life work. Previous recipients include President Ford, Cabinet Officers, military flag officers, university presidents and others. The Ceremony described below was held at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA, on June 28, 2012. This narrative was written by Bob Williams’ Grandson, Donald P. Taylor.
The crowd gave a big “ohhh…” and murmurs continued across the room. The announcer had started the ceremonies recognizing the Eagle Scouts in the room, and had asked them to remain standing as the years were called out. As yearly increments were called out, Eagle Scouts continued to sit, with only a small handful standing at the 50 years ago mark. And then there was one standing, receiving the Eagle Scout medal 77 years ago, in 1935. The announcer let the room know that Robert Beresford Williams was here to receive the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. With typical humor, the Distinguished Scout shared “… and I’m still vertical.” This night was for all the new Scouts, and for one of their forbears, being acknowledged for living a life beyond worthy of the Scout creed. The murmurs were of amazement, appreciation, and inspiration.
The keynote speaker was an Eagle Scout and Navy Seal Commander, Commander Christian A. Dunbar, (Eagle 1988) who immediately took a moment to recognize those who set the path before him. He particularly shared his appreciation for the Distinguished Scout who would be recognized later that evening. In his speech, the theme focused on character, giving back, and commitment. (Click here to download PDF of his 2-page address.) Following the keynote, the new Eagle Scout class of 2011-2012 was recognized, one by one sharing about their Eagle Scout projects. The importance of having the Distinguished Robert Beresford Williams honored and present was this: for the Scouts in the room, the important message was one of values setting the course for a lifetime. As they shared their projects and good deeds they had recently accomplished, none of them quite knew where life would be taking them. And as they continue their early journey, with Boy Scout values developed, they get to witness a man who in the 1920s and 1930s strengthened his path while in the Scouts. A young man who started similar to them, using the Scouts to experience new things, set out to accomplish goals, and remain curious. In the 1920s, just as in the 2010s, this began in the form of attending Scout meetings, going to Scout outings, and staying focused on accomplishing merit badges and levels of rank. Desire, leadership, excitement, and curiosity all developed. The idea of many possibilities in life became a real concept.
Following the honoring of the new class of Eagle Scouts, the evening focused on the Distinguished Eagle Scout award. There is power in having the young men who just earned their awards now hear directly about one who came before them, who now becomes even more of an inspiration to those new Scouts. The presentation by Dave Mitchell, (Eagle 1952) and Pitch Johnson, (Eagle 1944, DESA 2004) highlighted more of Robert Beresford Williams’ and the importance of Scout values and accomplishment. Throughout his life, Scout values have supported Robert Beresford Williams' success, including the Navy, his business, and in his interest in collegiate sportsmanship. Pushing himself as much as possible he became Naval Academy Brigade Commander and Class President. When talking about this time in his life, what comes across was that he had a natural ability to draw people to him, along with an ability to always push himself to complete the task and look ahead to the next benchmark. In business, what comes across is his belief in pushing the boundaries of what is possible and thinking about things in new ways. This led to his success in a new part of the world, the Middle East. Not only did he push himself, but in doing so he identified how he could impact the full profession. He led a change in Ethical practices in the insurance business, which seems to be a clear link to his previous Boy Scout days. Finally, he has brought his passion in sports and sportsmanship to colleges across the country. Setting incremental goals and staying on an unwavering course, he continues to push the importance of sportsmanship as a critical area in which sports can have an impact on people on and off the field.
My Grandfather, Robert Beresford Williams, accepted his reward and humbly recognized others and the Scouts. What he shared was that with hard work and dedication, life’s potential is unlimited and exciting. He thanked those who have been a part of his success and encouraged those Eagle Scouts continuing their own journeys to go after it and use the Boy Scout motto and law as a foundation. It was clear that the young Eagle Scouts were listening.
I have experienced much of my Grandfather’s passion through the years. His interest in expanding possibilities, pushing yourself to experience new things, and his excitement in the possibilities of life… all that has always been there, and has certainly rubbed off, in its own way, on me. I continue to hear this theme from everyone I meet who knows my Grandfather. “I’ve never met someone who has so much energy,” “He is an inspiration,” “I don’t know how he does it, and he seems to be getting more exciting with age.” It doesn’t stop, and I always see other’s energy level increase when they are thinking of my Grandfather, or when he is in their presence. This was certainly fostered on his path to Eagle Scout. It is a lifetime accomplishment. Tonight was special, getting to see the impact of my Grandfather spread to a new generation of Scouts, who have now seen and heard in person about what is possible in life. It is an honor to be a part of tonight and see the recognition.