Norfleet Johnston ’56 was only a Boy Scout himself for about a year, but he was recently honored for his dedication to serving the Boy Scouts of America for 63 years in his adulthood.
At the organization’s National Annual Meeting on June 1, Johnston was honored with the Silver Buffalo award — the highest award the Scouts bestow on a national level. “I was delighted,” Johnston says of the honor.
The award is part family affair, as well: Johnston’s father, Gale Johnston 1924, was awarded the Silver Buffalo in 1952, which the younger Johnston says makes them the 14th father-son duo to receive the award. “I feel like I’m just carrying on the family legacy. He set the pace for us, and I’ll just try to continue on.”
Johnston’s brief stint as a Boy Scout began after his family moved to St. Louis when he was 13 years old. When he went off to high school in Tennessee a year later, he wasn’t able to find another local troop, so he hung up his uniform without many memories of camping trips or badges he’d earned.
He studied politics at Princeton and became captain of the fencing team. After going through the Navy ROTC program and graduating, Johnston was commissioned with the Navy for two years. When he moved back to New York afterward to begin his career in banking and insurance, he became involved with the Boy Scouts again.
In 1959, his family founded the National Scouting Museum in North Brunswick, New Jersey, where the Boy Scouts of America was headquartered at the time. It was originally called the Johnston Memorial Museum in honor of his late mother, who died in 1956 during Johnston’s senior year.
Now located in Cimarron, New Mexico, the museum houses thousands of pieces of Boy Scouts memorabilia dating back to the organization’s founding in 1910, including a collection of different uniforms and patches, the first Eagle Scout award, and exhibits honoring notable Boy Scouts. “There’s a world of history at the museum,” Johnston says.
He continues to serve as a trustee for the museum and calls its founding one of his proudest achievements. Johnston served on the National Advisory Board for the Boy Scouts with his two brothers, Gale Johnston Jr. '49 and Chambless Johnston '51.
This year he’s sponsoring two Eagle Scouts from his local troop in Tennessee so they can attend the 25th World Scout Jamboree in South Korea in August, an event he’s skipping after attending seven previous Jamborees throughout his life. Johnston previously wrote a book about the 2015 World Jamboree in Japan and will write another book about the Jamboree this summer with help from the two Eagle Scouts he has sponsored.
“I’m just very thankful to have spent most of my life supporting what I consider the best youth organization for boys, and girls now, in our country,” Johnston says. “It’s been a labor of love for me and I just continue to support them and wish them well.”