A Distinguished Eagle Scout

On May 12, 2011 the Boy Scouts of America honor George Rodrigue with their highest honor, the Distinguished Eagle Award. Since established by the National Eagle Scout Association in 1969, only six Eagle Scouts from the New Orleans area have received this honor, the last one twenty-two years ago in 1989.
Never have I seen George Rodrigue so excited about an award. He spoke, as he stood before the Blue Dog sculpture on Veterans Boulevard at the press conference this week, about the impact scouting made on his life from the beginning, particularly the pursuit of merit badges:

“It gave me a chance to meet professionals in various fields, because they had to sign off on my badges.  I spent hours with firefighters, police officers, and even the local funeral home director. One expert was a published historian who asked me, ‘Do you know where the name New Iberia comes from?’  I had never thought about the Spanish heritage of my hometown.  I retained more about local history in that one afternoon than in twelve years of study at Catholic High.”

At the request of the Boy Scouts of America, George designed a unique patch based on his Eagle painting as a commemorative gift for the evening of May 12th.  Afterwards the BSA adopts a special version for use nationally as an art badge for aspiring Eagle Scouts. 

Before recounting George’s history with scouting, I share with you an adventure:
Last weekend we traveled through rural Alabama, retracing Hank Williams’ childhood.  I sought history for an upcoming blog post to coincide with Jazz Fest, but George is a long-time Hank Williams fan and longed to connect more personally with the country music legend, walking through his hometown and sitting on his front porch.  
We paused at a graveyard in Georgiana, Alabama.  George took pictures from the air-conditioned car, as I wandered in the 97-degree heat near the back of the cemetery. Moody and distracted among the crumbling 19th century tombs and headstones, I contemplated the forgotten residents of a small southern town.

“Come see,” I called out to George, as I stared at a family’s long-neglected plot.  

He snapped a photo of me just before he left the car, a black shape barely discernible in the grass to my right. 
George approached quietly, as I took pictures, unaware of the danger a mere eighteen inches from my sandaled feet.  Without hesitating, he pulled me away just as a cottonmouth, coiled and reared back, prepared to strike.  Had he called out to me instead, I probably would have jerked or frozen or otherwise enticed the snake with my fear.
As I ran, shaking, back to the car, George grabbed the camera.

“Nobody’s gonna believe this!” he said.

Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle-
Hope to see you at this special May 12th event!
The Boy Scouts of America and the Southeast Louisiana Council cordially invite you to the 10th Annual Golden Eagle Dinner, honoring Artist George Rodrigue with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award

May 12th, 2011
6:00 p.m.   Private Reception
7:00 p.m.   Dinner and Program

Sheraton Hotel New Orleans

500 Canal Street
Business Attire
For tickets and information contact Shane Cooley at 504-889-0388
or e-mail shane.cooley@scouting.org

Tickets and sponsorships start at $250, with all proceeds benefiting the thousands of young people and volunteers from the eleven parishes of the Southeast Louisiana Council, Boy Scouts of America.

And now……..

      (a re-post from June, 2010, with additional photographs)
It was probably our first date when I asked George Rodrigue,
“How would you describe yourself? What are your best qualities?”
Without hesitating, he rattled off a list:
“I am trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
“Goodness,” I said, secretly hoping I could measure up.
It wasn’t until months later, after he’d repeated this list a number of times for various reasons, that I learned it was the Boy Scout law, something he memorized nearly sixty years ago and has taken seriously ever since.
(pictured, Eagle Scout, 2004, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue for the National Scouting Museum)
George’s older cousin Donald LaBauve was scoutmaster of Troop Number 136 in New Iberia, Louisiana, part of the Evangeline Area Council. George and Donald’s son Red spent every Monday evening throughout the 1950s working on their merit badges and planning for outings to Camp Thistlethwaite.

It was in Boy Scouts that George (pictured back row, second from left) first painted monsters, images so popular among his friends that he transferred them to t-shirts, selling them to earn money for gas.
He also learned to play a musical instrument, the bugle, specifically to perform as the ‘echo’ for Taps during a special scouting event. He hid in the bushes and mimicked the older player, who stood in front of the troop and guests. He recalls that when his fellow scout missed the high ‘G,’ George echoed the note perfectly from the shadows, thereby securing his promotion as head bugler going forward.
He played baseball as a Boy Scout, following in his father’s footsteps, a minor league pitcher (Big George, pictured below, in New Iberia).
Equally rewarding was the year George won a full scholarship to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. It was at the National Junior Leader Training Camp that he learned the skills, specifically the ability to teach younger scouts, that eventually earned him the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.
It was difficult for me to understand at first George’s pride at this achievement. I was a Girl Scout and earned badges by playing the harmonica, selling cookies door-to-door, and plaster-casting squirrel tracks.  I spent a week or more each summer in a tent or cabin somewhere in the north Florida woods, cooking over the fire and stringing our food high in the tree, lest the bears get to it. 
Scouting was a wonderful part of my childhood, but by the sixth grade I didn’t care anymore, and today I’d be hard-pressed to put my hands on my sash; and the harmonica went to Goodwill years ago.
Yet within the curio cabinets of George Rodrigue’s studio, carefully placed among the numerous awards and keys to cities and photographs with presidents, are his merit badge, his bugle, and his Eagle Scout pin.
He does speak with regret about the ceremony he missed:
“It was a big deal, Wendy. Everyone gathered at the Iberia Parish Courthouse.”
But in 1960, sixteen-year old George, home sick with the mumps, missed the Eagle Scout presentation.  His cousin Red stood in for him at the courthouse and afterwards the entire troop visited George at home and pinned his pajamas.
In 2004 the Boy Scouts of America asked George to commemorate his experience with a painting. They specifically requested the Blue Dog; however George, as with his Jazz Fest posters of 1995, 1996, and 2000, wondered at its relevance. In the end, he focused on the American bald eagle as the painting’s subject and incorporated the Blue Dog as a neckerchief slide.
George was honored by this painting commission not only because of his past, but also because he joins the great tradition of artist Norman Rockwell and his Boy Scout paintings. Selections from the Boy Scouts’ collection, including Rodrigue’s Eagle and Rockwell’s Pinning (pictured below), tour U.S. museums. We attended one such special exhibition, on view during 2008 in the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Today, when not on tour, George’s painting remains on view with the Rockwells and other fine original works at the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas.
Finally, I’m reminded of a story George often recounts as pivotal. It was his last summer at Camp Thistlethwaite near Opelousas, Louisiana, where he worked in the general store. 
(pictured, Camp Thistlethwaite news clipping from The Daily Iberian; George Rodrigue is pictured back row, far left)
His enthusiasm for scouting waned that summer, as he looked towards college and concentrated on his art studies. He tells of his last day as an active scout, recalling clearly his thoughts as he swept the dust out the door of the store:
“This is the last time I will hold a broom; and I will never work for someone else again.”
It was a personal and symbolic pledge, for better or worse, which he kept.
It was scouting that gave George independence, confidence, and pride. Sometimes I think even today that he approaches a project as though it results in a merit badge. Although it appears on the outside that he moved on after high school, inside George remains ‘trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.’ He remains, always, an Eagle Scout.

Also new this week (April 2011) for Gambit, I hope you enjoy “Vincent Price:  Contradictions,” a story about Sears, Fine Art, and Horror, including George Rodrigue’s connection to the great screen star-

6 thoughts on “A Distinguished Eagle Scout

  1. George learned more, remembered more and retained more from scouting than anyone I ever encountered. Congratulations George and thanks to Wendy for an excellent description and for escaping the snake.


  2. From one eagle to another. I too can relate to your story. Congradulation. I will show this blog to my first year webelo who questions me on why scouting. Thank you Wendy and George.

  3. I was looking for a picture of a Star Scout badge on the internet and came across this site by accident. Being a "Blue Dog" fan I just had to continue on. I attended Philmont for 28 days in the late summer of 1953 (age 14). It was an awesome experience. I received my Eagle award in 1956. I would imagine I use a skill from the BSA every day. You're a good man George Rodrigue.

    Bob Turpen
    Dawsonville, GA

Comments are closed.