In October’s edition of Esquire, Mike Sager profiles our national president, Dr. Robert M. Gates and the Boy Scouts of America. Click on the link above to go to the site for the full story, available on newsstands now.
Are There Still Boy Scouts? Millions of them, in tens of thousands of troops, though not nearly as many as there once were. Robert Gates is hoping to change that.
It wasn’t until he was engaged in the melancholy task of moving his mother from her condo to assisted living that Robert Gates, a former CIA director and secretary of defense, discovered the truth hidden from him his entire life: His father was a Boy Scout.
The family lived in Wichita, Kansas. Mel Gates sold wholesale auto parts. Robert was the younger of two sons by eight years. He remembers his dad being gruff in public but very affectionate at home. “He frightened my friends a little bit until they got to know him,” Gates remembers, gesturing toward a table, to the black-and-white photo he’d unearthed in his mom’s stuff—his dad in full scout regalia, Kansas City, 1918, when Mel was twelve years old and the Boy Scouts of America was only eight. “We really had a good time when I was growing up. But I never had a clue he’d been a scout.”
Mel was neither a handy man nor an outdoorsman. “Dad was a golf nut,” Gates says. “He would work, I think, every day he was alive, but on Saturday he would work only half a day and then go to the golf course.” Mel’s son, who in May became the thirty-fifth national president of the Boy Scouts, is sitting at his desk in the library of his house in rural Washington state, facing toward a lake, a landscape of tall evergreens. His ruddy face is lit as much by memories as by the light reflected off the water; his thin lips are pressed into a fond smirk. Occasionally, through the glass doors that open onto the deck, an American eagle can be seen flying past, its familiar strong profile and huge outstretched wings outlined against a perfect blue sky.
Inside, Gates is surrounded by tall bookcases, important books, the usual array of mementos befitting a man who started his career as a hayseed scholarship student at the College of William & Mary, was recruited by the CIA, received his Ph.D. in Russian and Soviet history during the cold war, and eventually rose to become the agency’s director. There are ceremonial swords from West Point and the Air Force Academy. Photos with dignitaries. A bronze eagle or two. And a pair of leather chairs, in slightly different styles, that he occupied at Cabinet meetings during his tenure as defense secretary—his actual seats at the table. (It is a custom for the staffs of outgoing Cabinet secretaries to purchase the chairs for their bosses.) Read more