Betty Clay





The Hon. Mrs. Betty Clay, CBE.
An Appreciation by the Chief Scout and the Chief Guide

From the Scout Association Portal:

Betty Clay died on Saturday morning, April 24, 2004, just a few days after her 87th birthday. For us all who sincerely mourn her loss it is the real closing of a chapter and the severing of what must be one of the last very real links with our Founder and Olave, Lady Baden-Powell.

Born on April 16, 1917, Betty was their third and youngest child and was closely involved in both Scouting and Guiding all her life. She acted as assistant to her mother and father on many of their world tours but her personal contribution to both Movements went far beyond the demands of family connection. Perhaps her greatest role, as well as her pride and pleasure, was to keep alive in the thoughts of successive generations of members of the Scout and Guide Movements the memories of her parents. How many hundreds of times must she have heard after one of her talks ‘It was just like hearing your mother speak’, for she had the same mannerisms, enthusiasm and inflections of voice. But she was in her own right ‘Betty’, loved and admired for herself and the dedication she brought to her varied work for both Movements through the years and in many places.

Her own childhood was full of ‘ordinary’ happiness – picnics, learning to ride, swimming, looking after pets, all in the company of Peter and Heather, her older brother and sister and the ever expanding number of people who visited the Chief Scout and the World Chief Guide. Enrolled as a Brownie in her youth, Betty’s early education was at Westernbirt, Gloucestershire. She remembered her years there with great affection. She then spent a brief while at St James School, West Malvern where she joined the school Guide Company. Later she trained in secretarial work. In 1934 -1935 she and her older sister Heather joined their parents on a world tour visiting Scouts and Guides in the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America, having already travelled with them in previous years on the Goodwill Cruises to visit members of the two Movements in the Baltic and the Mediterranean.

Much of her life was spent outside England, for in May 1936 while returning by ship with her parents from South Africa, she first met Gervas Clay, who was a District Commissioner in the Colonial Service in Northern Rhodesia, (now Zambia), returning to England on leave. It was a scenario strikingly similar to her parents’ first meeting on a boat sailing to America in 1912. Like her parents, Betty and Gervas also shared a birthday. So when Betty met a man on a boat, also born April 16, it was as though fate was calling to her. Betty and Gervas married in the village church near her parents’ home at Bentley on September 24 1936 and returned to live in Northern Rhodesia until 1964. Gervas later became resident Commissioner of Barotseland Protectorate, in which capacity, in 1960, he and Betty entertained Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Her Guide training and the Scout motto ‘Be prepared’ must have constantly stood her in good stead, living in the African bush and bringing up four children in hard conditions. And, like so many parents before her and since, she was a Cub Scout Leader for a time following the anguished appeal from her own son who was afraid the Pack would close because the current leader was leaving. In Guiding she served not only as Guider, but as Acting District Commissioner, Division Commissioner and Commissioner for African Guides and finally as Colony Commissioner. She was a Guider in all three sections. She held a Camper’s Licence, a Guide and Camp Training Certificate and, for the last two years of her time in Northern Rhodesia, she was adviser for Training in that country.

When they returned to England in 1964 Betty and Gervas found a comfortable home with a large rambling garden at Wivelscombe, near Taunton, Somerset, that proved ideal for her family and grandchildren. Locally and nationally she continued her work for Guiding becoming Division Commissioner for Taunton and Deputy Chief Commissioner for England. She always contributed that welcome spice of down-to-earthiness and simplicity to discussions that might tend to become high flown and tinged with jargon. Her home-making qualities and love of a family atmosphere spilled over into her Guiding life and hundreds of people enjoyed the warmth of her hospitality and her genuine welcome, however busy she might be.

In Scouting’s 60th year she unveiled the memorial stone on Brownsea Island to her father’s experimental camp. Betty returned there several times, the last being in 1998 to take part in a video that was used to support The Scout Association’s successful bid to host the 2007 World Scout Jamboree. She herself was no stranger to Jamborees, having attended several, including the fourth held in Hungary in 1933 and the sixteenth held in Australia in 1987.

When Guiding in England was divided into Regions in 1970 she became President for South West England, a position she held until 1991 and in 1978 she was appointed a Vice-President of The Guide Association. In addition she was President of the Trefoil Guild from 1989 to 1994 and a founder member of the Olave Baden-Powell Society in 1985. Because of her unique and valued place in Guiding, The Guide Association presented her in 1995 with a special gold version of its Silver Fish award in the form of a brooch.

She was awarded the Silver Wolf in 1984, The Scout Association’s highest award for good service, became a Vice-President of the Association in 1989 and in 1993 became only the second person ever to have been awarded an honorary Gilwell wood badge (the first being her mother). World Scouting recognised her with its only and prestigious award, the Bronze Wolf in 1999.

In 1997 her unique services to Scouting and Guiding were recognised with the award of the CBE in Her Majesty the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

She continued to accompany Gervas to the annual Gilwell Reunion held each September for holders of Scouting’s wood badge up until 2000. At the Reunion in 1993 she happily sat at and worked the controls of a JCB to commence work on the refurbishment of the White House, the Georgian house at the centre of the Gilwell estate. In 1999, Betty was guest of honour at Girlguiding UK’s World Camp at Foxlease, in Hampshire, where she transmitted her belief that young people can make a difference in every aspect of society. She was honoured by The Queen in being invited to review the Parade of Queen’s Scouts at Windsor in 2000. It proved a memorable occasion as, rather than stop every now and again to converse with holder of the Queen’s Scout Award, Betty kept a conversation going with each and every young person on parade that day, even in the second and third ranks.

Even in her last years when her health was failing she continued by letter and telephone call to inspire and motivate people.

Camp, events, meetings, Jamborees – Scouting and Guiding were Betty’s life. She was as much at ease chatting with the King of Sweden as she was with the youngest Brownie. In an article on ‘Thinking Day’; for the ‘Guider’ magazine in 1978, Betty wrote: It can be given to very few families to be loved by millions of people of many nations’, looking back to the days of the Founder and the World Chief Guide and of herself, Peter and Heather, as they grew up in that unique family, sharing Scouting and Guiding with the world. Betty continued that completely unselfish, warm-hearted sharing all her life and through the link with her parents kept them ‘alive’ for millions of young people and adults who had never seen them.

For that great service and for her own special qualities of simplicity, humility, practicality and generosity, members of the Scout and Guide Movements will be forever grateful.

The ribbon to the left is the ribbon of the Order of the British Empire. The Honorable Betty St. Clair Clay was honoured with the C.B.E., Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, by the Queen in 1977.



Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links starting with the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. These links are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P's brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell, to members of his extended family, and to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.

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Please write to: Lewis P. Orans

Copyright © Lewis P. Orans and Robin Baden Clay, 2012
Last Modified: 10:08 PM on June 20, 2012