W.H. Sears was instrumental in forming the Chattanooga Boy Scouts in 1914. He was present at the December 8, 1914 meeting at which the council was initially formed. The national council subsequently commissioned him to assume leadership of the council. He personally took out loans in 1915 to help fund the organization. He served as one of the first (if not the first) council commissioner, bearing that title as early as 1917. In 1918, he served as a Vice President of the council.
Around 1911, a drowning boy was struggling in the waters of a lake in central New York State. He was not an expert swimmer and something had happened—cramps, or sudden exhaustion—that unforeseen something that so often happens with fatal results to swimmers. He had gone down for the last time, unconscious, dead, to all appearances. Then at the critical moment something else happened—something common enough in these days of Scouting activities, but which in those days was regarded as little short of a miracle. The drowning boy’s thirteen year old brother plunged into the water and rescued the boy. Once on shore with the body, the youngster did not waste a precious moment. With a skill and composure, born of knowledge of what to do, he rendered first aid to the victim. The result was a "drowned" boy resuscitated.
W.H. Sears of Chattanooga, architect, and district reconditioning supervisor, was an eye witness of the incident. The two boys were his nephews. So impressed was Mr. Sears by the rescue and resuscitation of a drowning person by a 13 year old by that, then a there, a new vision burst upon his mind. His nephew, the hero of the day, was a Boy Scout. And the vision that came to Mr. Sears was the possibility of a movement that made life-savers out of young boys. Later, when Mr. Sears came from New York to Chattanooga, he brought with him the vision and the training that enabled him to organize the first Boy Scout troop in the city that survived its infancy.
The organization took place in 1914—four years after the Boy Scout movement was born, and continuously until his death in 1951, Mr. Sears served on the executive board of the Chattanooga Council. In the early days, he personally financed a large part of the Council’s expenses. He is credited with fathering the movement in the Chattanooga area. His enthusiasm and inspiration were described as invaluable in the formative years of the council.
To Mr. Sears, the Chattanooga Council presented one of the first Silver Beavers, the organization’s highest award in recognition of adult service. He held the post of national council member for many years, as well as local treasurer, vice-president, and member of the executive board. Mr. Sears believed that the greatest value of scouting lies in its development of a sense of responsibility in boys. He pointed out in 1935 that "Juvenile Court authorities make the most extravagant claims of the beneficial results of the organization—they claim that no member of the Boy Scouts troops (in Chattanooga) has ever been listed as a delinquent." He predicted a still wider and greater growth for the organization, which at that point had gone international.
William Hatfield Sears was born March 8, 1875, in Fabius, Onondaga County, New York. He died April 20, 1951 in Chattanooga. He was married to Florence Estelle Burgwin (d. June 1948). They had two sons:
Howard Jones Sears (b. 1913 d. 5/1980) was a government executive, serving as County Manager of Charleston County, SC, Glynn County, Ga and Hall County, GA. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The University of the South (1935) and Duke University Law School (1938). He married Thais Ann Lenz Sears (1923-1992). Howard and Thais had two children, incl. George Howard Sears.
Robert Burgwin Sears (1910-1997) was a newspaper reporter for The Roanoke Times. He retired in 1975. A native of Chattanooga, TN, he was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of the South and Columbia University.
Sears received the Silver Beaver for the year 1931.