We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk


Betty Clay

Follower in her Baden-Powell parents' footsteps

Betty Clay's greatest role, as well as her pride and pleasure, was to keep alive in the thoughts of successive generations of Scouts and Guides the memories of the movements' founders, and her parents, Lord and Lady Baden-Powell.

Betty St Clair Baden-Powell, Scout and Guide leader: born 16 April 1917; CBE 1997; married 1936 Gervas Clay (three sons, one daughter); died Maperton, Somerset 24 April 2004.

Betty Clay's greatest role, as well as her pride and pleasure, was to keep alive in the thoughts of successive generations of Scouts and Guides the memories of the movements' founders, and her parents, Lord and Lady Baden-Powell.

She gave countless talks, addresses and interviews, stressing the value of scouting and guiding. For many, it was like hearing her parents talk, as Betty Clay had many of the same mannerisms and inflections of voice. But she was, in her own right, loved and admired for herself and for the dedication she brought to her varied work for both movements.

Clay was as at ease chatting with the King of Sweden as she was with the youngest Brownie who was doing a guiding history quiz around her own home. In an article in the Guider magazine in 1978, she wrote: "It can be given to very few families to be loved by millions of people of many nations." Betty Clay 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.

She was born Betty St Clair Baden-Powell in 1917, the third and last child of Robert Baden-Powell, and his wife Olave. Baden-Powell had founded the Scouts in 1908, and the Girl Guides two years later and Betty joined the Brownies as soon as she was able. While at boarding school at St James, Malvern, she enrolled in the school's Guide company and later trained in secretarial work. This was put to good use by her parents when Betty accompanied them on many of their world travels and tours.

In 1934-35 Betty and her sister Heather accompanied their parents on a tour visiting members of the Scout and Guide movements in the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America, having already travelled with them in previous years on goodwill cruises to the Baltic and the Mediterranean.

Betty's parents had first met on a boat sailing to America in 1912 and in a similar scenario, while returning by ship in May 1936 with the World Chief Guide from South Africa, she first met Gervas Clay, the Provincial Commissioner of the Barotseland Protectorate (part of what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia), returning to England on leave. They were married in the village church near her parents' home at Bentley, Hampshire, in 1936 and later returned to live in Northern Rhodesia.

But scouting and guiding were in Betty Clay's blood; she served as Acting District Commissioner, Division Commissioner and Commissioner for African Guides, and Colony Commissioner. And, like so many parents before and since, she got involved in scouting too and became a Cub Scout Leader for a time, following an anguished appeal from one of her sons, who was afraid that his Pack would close because the leader was leaving.

When they returned to Britain in 1964, the Clays set up home near Taunton, in Somerset. Locally and nationally Betty continued her work for Guiding, as Division Commissioner for Taunton and Deputy Chief Commissioner for England, while Gervas became Scout County Commissioner for Somerset.

In Scouting's 60th year, Betty Clay unveiled a memorial stone on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour to mark the site of her father's experimental camp in 1907. She returned there several times, most recently in 1998 to take part in a video recording 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 16th held in Australia in 1987. It was her constant hope and now unfulfilled wish that she might live to see scouting's centenary.

In 1978 Clay was appointed a Vice-President of the Guide Association and in 1989 a Vice-President of the Scout Association. Both associations also honoured her with their highest awards for good service - the Silver Wolf from the Scouts in 1984 and a Silver Fish brooch from the Guides in 1995. In 1993 she became only the second person ever to have been awarded the Scout Association's leadership training award, the Gilwell Wood Badge, without ever having done the training course (the first being her mother). World Scouting recognised her with its only and prestigious award, the Bronze Wolf, in 1999.

Age continued to be no barrier to what Clay was prepared to do. In September 1993, at the annual reunion for Scouters, she happily worked the controls of a JCB to commence the refurbishment of the White House, the Georgian house at the centre of the Gilwell Park estate. She took part in 1997 in BBC Television's Noel's Christmas Presents. In 2000 she reviewed the Parade of Queen's Scouts at Windsor, at the invitation of the Queen, conversing with each holder of the Queen's Scout Award, even in the second and third ranks.

One of her final public appearances was at the Guides' World Camp in 2000 when she spoke on how young women can make a difference to society.

Simon Carter