In Memory of Trailman Richard Mathews:
By John Stemberger
“Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, the fear of the Lord, the gifts of the Holy Spirit... What better legacy can we give our children than to help prepare them to receive those gifts...developing our boys into men of God, teaching them how to make moral choices... to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, this is the rock on which any youth organization should be built.”
These are the words of Richard Mathews, the former General Counsel of the Boy Scouts of America and the first General Counsel of Trail Life USA, spoken at our Inaugural 2013 Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
Richard died Saturday, January 4, 2020 at 62 years of age. He was working out at the gym and, while taking a shower afterwards, experienced a massive heart attack. He is survived by his wife, Laura, and his two sons. He served on the Human Life International Board with TLUSA Board member Stu Nolan and was a strong pro-life advocate for the rights of the unborn.
I really loved and respected this man. He was a consummate professional as a lawyer, and he was a true friend. Richard also loved Scouting dearly, or what Scouting once was. Since 2013, he was passionate about Trail Life USA and was an integral part of our early founding as a movement. He also served on the Catholic Committee of Trail Life USA.
I first encountered Richard as an opposing lawyer for the BSA when I was running the On My Honor campaign. Even in my interaction with him as an adversary, there was a steadiness and integrity about him.
The day after the BSA vote in 2013 allowing boys to identify as openly gay, he asked me to meet with him for lunch to tell me that if we used any of the BSA protected names or images he would sue us! Even then, I sensed we had a mutual respect and admiration for each other. The way he carried himself and spoke to me, even as an opposing lawyer, it was so surreal. It felt like he cared about me somehow.
Shortly after the May 2013 BSA vote, I heard he was abruptly fired. I found his number and called him out of the blue with no expectations. I just wanted to see if he would tell me anything about what happened. To my surprise, he told me everything. He was fired on the spot and asked to leave after 11 years with the BSA for not being a full “team player.” Richard took part in the drafting of the BSA resolution to allow openly gay boys in Scouting and worked on the project reluctantly because of his faith and his passion for youth protection.
At the time of our phone call, he knew we were working to start Trail Life USA (not even knowing its actual name at that point) and began thanking me and encouraging me. He said, “The work you are doing is of the Lord.” It is a “great and amazing work.” I thought to myself, “Wait a second. You just got fired last week from your job after 11 years and you're encouraging me?”
After about an hour on the phone together, I just stepped out on a limb and offered him a job as our first General Counsel for what was then called the “Youth Adventure Program.” He said he would love to work with us, and we made an epic announcement about him as our “first draft pick” at the Nashville Convention in September of 2013. What a remarkable memory this is.
Trail Life USA Leader and Board Member Stuart Michelson of Atlanta, Georgia, said of Richard,
In my mind his legacy will always be that of hope. I know he did much to help navigate the waters in the early days behind the scenes, but when he walked out as the first draft pick in Nashville - for many I think that's when we "knew" it was all gonna be okay. This thing had legs and was gonna make it. I had crossed paths with him in BSA but didn't know him until our time together in Trail Life. I'll always be thankful for the good times I did have with him.
Richard Mathews was an integral part of the founding of Trail Life USA. He was a strategic and amazing gift from our Lord to us. Like each of us, God uniquely prepared Richard all of his life to help us for this moment in time and history.
It was my privilege to applaud Richard as he started with Trail Life at our founding convention. It is now my privilege to applaud him as he ends the trail of this life and to honor him for his unique contribution to our great movement.
I will greatly miss him and his friendship.
“Man knows not his time…” - Ecclesiastes 9:1