While he can’t remember how to tie some of the knots he could as a kid, and doesn’t camp out the way he used to when he was a young Boy Scout, Richard Mason of Hoboken still retains some of the basic lessons of life being a scout brought him, like leadership skills and how to commit to something.
Earlier this year, Mason, the husband of former Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason, was elected as volunteer board president for The Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts of America (GNYC), which provides services to some 47,000 youths in New York City’s five boroughs.
“I’ve had a life long association with the Boy Scouts,” said Mason, who is a partner in the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, one of the leading business firms in the country.
Richard – most often called Ricky – is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and New York University School of Law. He is a recognized leader in the field of business reorganization. Prior to becoming president, Mason has served as an executive committee member for GNYC’s Board of Trustees for five years.
The greater council of New York covers the five boroughs of New York City, but gives kids opportunities in the city and its camp upstate.
Taking the lead on hiring gay leaders
As one of the leaders of the New York council since 2008, Mason helped reshape national policy in regards to the hiring of gay leaders.
In mid-2015, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – president of the national Boy Scouts of America Organization – reversed the organization’s prior policy and allowed the hiring of gay leaders for the first time.
While the national organization had previously changed its policy about allowing gay kids to serve as scouts, it had maintained its policy against hiring gay leaders.
“We needed a spokesperson. I became that spokesperson.” – Richard Mason
Mason said at the time the New York chapter had reviewed the boy’s application and found him highly qualified. Mason said the chapter had an anti-discrimination policy and this applied to leaders as well as scouts.
“The New York Council was far ahead of the nation on this issue,” he said. “The New York Council has always been open and inclusive. We didn’t ban people for their sexual orientation. This, of course, was inconsistent with the national policies. But eventually, the national council changed its rule and allowed gay kids to become scouts. But there was still a restriction about hiring gay leaders. So we hired one for our summer camp. He was an openly gay Eagle Scout. We needed a spokesperson. I became that spokesperson. We started a media tour (in April 2015) and when it became public, we pushed the national organization to make the change.”
Has had a lifelong relationship with scouting
Mason, a resident of Hoboken since 1984, grew up in Virginia. He and his brothers both managed to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
“As I kid, it was fun and I enjoyed the activities,” he said. “But later I realized how much it taught me about being part of a community and leadership. We did all kinds of cool stuff when I was a kid, but I also learned citizenship and leadership, which might seem boring talk to a teenager.”
He said becoming an Eagle Scout was very difficult, but achieving it changed his view about other things that might seem unattainable but can be reached through hard work.
As a board member on the council, he did a lot of financial programming.
“That’s what I do for a living,” he said. “We worked out the council’s debt, and restored it.”
He said the New York Council has a great staff and great volunteers, and that it is now on a mission to continue re-introducing scouting to New York. This will involve increasing membership and seeking additional corporate and politic support.
“We have made great strides,” Mason said.
Scouting is adapting to current needs
He said he is amazed just how well scouting stands up in an era of divisiveness and angry politics.
He said New York scouting troops have been established by Muslim, Asian, Jewish, Catholic, and other institutions.
“New York is the most diverse council in the country,” he said. “This is a very inclusive organization with good values, giving young men and women the ability to make good choices in their lives, and at the same time, allowing them to have fun.”
As a volunteer president, Mason sees his role as been a good will ambassador in various New York City communities.
“We provide activities and we have a good relationship with schools and churches. We have scout outreach after schools, and this helps single-parent families, allowing kids to have some place to be other than an empty apartment,” Mason said.
The camp upstate at Ten Mile River was donated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the council’s first president.
“This is a parcel of land the size of Manhattan,” Mason said. “We have a very active summer camp. Thousands of kids go there from New York City.”
He said while some kids on Staten Island may get to see the outdoors, most urban kids don’t, and this camp provides them with an opportunity to engage with nature.
The council includes an Explorer program for older kids, which is career oriented.
“The Explorers are co-ed and career focused,” Mason said. “These posts are hosted in various places of employment.”
Many of them are geared towards law enforcement and so they are sponsored by groups such as the Port Authority Police or the New York Police Department. These members of the Explorers often go on to John Jay College for Criminal Justice.
Although Mason is connected to the New York City council, scouting thrives in New Jersey with active posts throughout Hudson County, especially in Hoboken and Bayonne.
“Hoboken just graduated a bunch of Eagle Scouts,” Mason said. “But scouting is very strong in the northeast, and it really teaches values to young men and women that society needs. While kids are having real fun, they are also really being challenged.”
Mason said scouting programs are changing with the times, being developed and adapted to reflect the contemporary needs of society.
Leaders often leave a lasting impact on the scouts they oversee. Mason said he was influenced strongly by the positive values his scout master instilled in him as a scout. He also remembered other scout leaders over time, including one who was a Holocaust survivor.
“I camped in the mountains of Virginia and grew up with some of the true heroes of scouting,” Mason said. “Even today, scout masters and adult volunteers are the backbone of the program.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.