Frances Hesselbein, Progressive Leader of the Girl Scouts, Dies at 107

Ms. Hesselbein retired from the Girl Scouts in 1990 but started a new career of training executives. In 1998, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from Bill Clinton. The citation read in part, “With skill and sensitivity, Frances Hesselbein has shown us how to summon the best from ourselves and our fellow citizens.”

In 2015, Fortune Magazine ranked her 37th in its list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders, ahead of Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase.

Frances Willard Richards was born on Nov. 1, 1915, in South Fork, Pa., and grew up in nearby Johnstown. Her father, Burgess, was a Pennsylvania state trooper. Her mother, Anne (Luke) Richards, was a homemaker. Frances attended junior college at the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Jamestown, but when her father died she dropped out after six weeks to go to work.

She married John Hesselbein in the late 1930s, and they opened a commercial photography studio in Johnstown that also made educational and promotional films. In 1950, when their son, John, was 8, Ms. Hesselbein was pressed by a neighbor to replace the departing leader of a local Girl Scout troop.

“I explained that I didn’t know anything about little girls,” she said in an oral history project at Indiana University in 2011. “I had a little boy.”

She agreed to fill in for six weeks, but stayed for eight years.

“It was the greatest leadership training I ever had,” she added. “You can’t work with a group of 30 little girls, 10 years old, and talk about the values and have them respond, and not live them.”


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