During my childhood, I had several great teachers (aside from my parents). Like most nostalgic adults, I remember them not for what they told me, but for what kind of people they were. Among mine, perhaps the greatest was Charlie Baty, for many years Akela of a troop of cub-scouts in the small town of White River. Charlie passed away recently. He had helped lead the troop since 1963.
I was one of his young cubs in the mid 1980s. Every time I tie a reef knot (“left over right and under, right over left and under”) a sense of impending adventure rushes back on a wave of adrenalin. Only recently, reading a reunion newsletter Charlie wrote a few weeks ago, did I also remember how the troop’s leaders kept us firmly on the straight and narrow: our fingernails neat, our socks up, our buckles polished. Falling short was punishable by a penalty I don’t recall, but which I feared as something akin to banishment. Saturday-morning cub meetings seemed to me to run like a Swiss clock. As children, we could have resented the strictures of it, but I remember following Charlie’s every instruction with single-minded enthusiasm.
He was one of those rare individuals who could treat a child as if they were the most important person in the world – not by acting out some special formula, but by genuinely believing it. Getting people to follow you is more about passion and belief than any amount of craft. This was Charlie’s gift to his young charges, who in letters and messages of condolence still gather around his big heart like a pack at a campfire.