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Obituary | Chief Scout Major-General Michael John Hatley Walsh

Chief Scout Major-General Michael John Hatley Walsh, CB CBE DSO DL: 10 June 1927–13 October 2015.

In his six years as The Scout Association’s Chief Scout, Major-General Michael John Hatley Walsh visited over 340 Scouting events. This constant face-to-face contact enabled him to bring what he called ‘personal leadership’ to the Movement. 

These visits weren’t just formal affairs; Michael enjoyed joining in with Scouting activities whether it was campfire cooking, tug-of-war or paragliding. He wanted just as much of an adventure as the 600,000 young people he led.

Michael had been a member of the Clifton House Scout Troop, Harrogate and went on to achieve the King’s Scout Award with Gold Cords, at the time Scouting’s highest award for proficiency and achievement.

Following a successful army career he was just settling in to retirement when a new challenge was offered – the role of Chief Scout. He took up the appointment in February 1982 and threw himself into the role whole-heartedly.

Personal recognition

1982 marked the 75th anniversary of the Movement and had been entitled ‘The Year of the Scout’. One of Michael’s first decisions was to create a theme for the year: ‘Scouts help others’.  He also wanted to provide personal recognition of the service given by members and developed the Chief Scout’s Personal Award to be presented to older Scouts and leaders.

Supporting grassroots Scouting

As well as attending major events such as the Extoree Camp, the first international Scout Camp to fully integrate Scouts with disabilities, Michael attended Cub and Scout meetings to get a sense of how Scouting was faring at its grassroots.

His high level of engagement led to him arguably becoming the most visible Chief Scout since the Founder, Robert Baden-Powell.

Michael was fully aware of the challenges facing Scouting and the competition it faced. His warnings about the competition from electrical toys and television for young people’s attention and time seemed to be ahead of their time. He was passionate about keeping Scouting relevant, practical, attractive and enjoyable while creating a generation of self-reliant young people. To ensure this was implemented, comprehensive revisions were made to training programmes.

Overseeing the launch of Beaver Scouts

One of the most significant developments during Michael’s tenure as Chief Scout was the development of the Beaver Scout section, which was formally launched in 1986. This was the first time since 1916 that the age limits for Scout membership had been changed enabling young people to join the Movement from the age of six.

After an action packed six years in the role, Michael stood down as Chief Scout in 1988 and became Vice President of The Scout Association. He was succeeded by Sir William Garth Morrison, KT CBE DL.



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