On a bright and clear day in 1982, Elder Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Frances, visited London's Westminster Abbey and paused before the marble memorial of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts.
"I pondered the thought, 'How many boys have had their lives blessed — even saved — by the Scout movement begun by Baden-Powell?'" he said in his October 1982 general conference remarks. "Unlike others memorialized within the walls of Westminster Abbey, Baden-Powell had neither sailed the stormy seas of glory, conquered in conflict the armies of men, nor founded empires of worldly wealth. Rather, he was a builder of boys, one who taught them well how to run and win the race of life."
When it comes to building boys into men, Baden-Powell and President Monson are kindred spirits.
For most of his life, Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. He attended meetings of the National Executive Board of BSA, national and international jamborees, conventions and Eagle Scout courts of honor; he spoke to large Boy Scout gatherings, served as a merit badge counselor and championed the benefits of Scouting, as chronicled in his biography, "To the Rescue," by Heidi S. Swinton.
"His enthusiasm for Scouting has never been about tying knots; it has been about touching lives," Swinton wrote. "To him, Scouting is 'the building of boys,' and he has enunciated that duty to Scouters in many nations."
Elder L. Tom Perry, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles with President Monson for more than 40 years before he passed away in 2015, said his friend epitomized the Scouting spirit.
"You can’t get him away from Boy Scouts,” Elder Perry said in a 2008 interview with Swinton. "He is Boy Scouting."
In his biography, President Monson recalled one of his earliest Boy Scout memories. His Scoutmaster took the troop up Brighton Canyon for a summer campout. As he dropped off the boys, he gave young Tom some instructions.
"(He) asked Tommy — the most responsible of the lot — if he had brought his fishing pole, and then ordered, 'Catch trout for breakfast for each of the boys for the two days you are here. I'll see you Saturday and take you home,'" Swinton wrote. "He drove off; Tommy did his 'Scout duty'; no one went hungry."
Decades later as a general authority, Elder Monson was asked by the First Presidency to take the place of President Ezra Taft Benson when he retired from the National Executive Board of the Boys Scouts of America in 1969. President Monson accepted and faithfully attended to that duty.
In the years that followed, President Monson received some of the highest honors bestowed by the Boy Scouts, including the Silver Beaver, Silver Buffalo and the Bronze Wolf. In the corner of his office he had a wooden walking stick with the symbol of every Boy Scout merit badge carved into it, courtesy of Jacob J. Dietz. The walking stick has been a conversation starter for some of the world leaders who have entered there, according to his biography.
Although BSA made some significant policy changes in recent years, President Monson held firm to Scouting traditions and trumpeted the positive influence it can have in the lives of young men.
"President Monson sees Scouting as 'a spiritual program, a builder of men,'" Swinton wrote. "He has said: 'If ever there were a time when the principles of Scouting were vitally needed — that time is now. If ever there were a generation who would benefit by keeping physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight — that generation is the present generation.'"