I was 12 years-old. He was 40. It was 1964. He was the Chief Electrical Engineer for the Saturn 5 Rocket that enabled men to land on the moon. As an infantryman in World War II, he was one of a few survivors of his company, and helped liberate a concentration camp. And I was…well, just a kid, having recently survived the 7th grade, and lacking much in the way of self-esteem or confidence.
Today, I marvel on what sometime seem to be relatively insignificant events, but in fact, represent points in time upon which an entire life can pivot. The activities that we join, the people we include in our lives, the choices we make, can all cast our future down different highways. I spent more than three years with this man, and they were exactly such a pivotal encounter. His influence sent my life on a completely different arc.
His name was Charles Graff, and he was my Scoutmaster. Very active in his community and church, he also somehow found the time to be Scoutmaster to Boy Scout Troop 72, located in Huntsville, Alabama, home to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal.
This was a man who lived his ideals – he was generous with his time and interest in us. He was kind and patient. I had an abusive childhood, but Boy Scout Troop 72 was a very safe place where I would never be hurt. It was not long before I realized that I wanted to live in the world that he lived in. As a boy, I never knew about his WWII experience, or the importance of his position and work. He never talked about any of that. He took us camping, helped us with our advancement, and demonstrated a life of compassion and commitment.
Thanks to his dedication, the Boy Scouts introduced me to advancement, goal-setting, and leadership. Becoming an Eagle Scout and leading our troop as a Senior Patrol Leader influenced my entire career, starting with jobs in college. It was only later in my life that I realized just how much I had modeled my life after his, and as a result, reached out to thank him. This included a number of trips from New York to Huntsville to visit with him and his family.
Charlie passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 93. He was truly a great man who influenced all those around him. He was an inspiration for both my professional career and personal life. This website, my Eagle Scout coaching, and my volunteer work at Boy Scout District and Council levels would not exist but for his life and influence. I thanked him many times while he was alive, and one more time, “Thank you, Charlie, and God bless your Spirit and your deeply saddened family.”
“Oh, the possibilities!”