Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of Girl Scouts, dies at 107

Frances Hesselbein, who rose through the ranks of the Girl Scouts and eventually became the organization’s first CEO, has died at the age of 107, the University of Pittsburgh announced Sunday. After her stint with the Girl Scouts, she founded a career-focused nonprofit and was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hesselbein, born in 1915, began her Girl Scout career in the 1940s when she helped a neighbor by becoming the leader of a troop of 30 girls, the Girl Scouts said in a blog post Sunday. Eventually, what was considered a simple favor turned into nearly a decade of service before she took on more responsibilities in the organization, the Girl Scouts said.

Its motto, according to the University of Pittsburgh, was “to serve is to live.”

Frances Hesselbein
Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of Girl Scouts, pictured in 1978.

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“We are eternally grateful for Ms. Hesselbein’s service to our movement, her community and her country,” the Girl Scouts said in a statement. “Through her exemplary life’s work, she was an inspiration and truly embodied what it means to be a Girl Scout.”

She was named CEO in 1976, the first ever to hold that title in the organization, the Girl Scouts said, noting that she created a planning and management system meant to unite troops around the world and edited the organization’s handbook with the aim of inspiring girls to pursue STEM careers.

Hesselbein also expanded the reach of Girl Scouts with the creation of Daisies – which are troops aimed at young children. The effort created “a more inclusive organization” and tripled the organization’s BIPOC membership, the Girl Scouts said.

Frances Hesselbein
Frances Hesselbein pictured with Girl Scouts in 1978.

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She remained CEO until 1990. In 1998, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton for her work in both the Girl Scouts and the nonprofit Peter F. Drucker Foundation.

The University of Pittsburgh, which Hesselbein attended, awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2001 and in 2009 established the Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement in honor of his work, the school said. .

In 2017, he also created the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum, which studies leadership and public service skills. Additionally, she has co-edited more than 35 books published in more than 20 different languages, the university said.

“Frances Hesselbein has inspired us all with her ‘to serve is to live’ philosophy. She has demonstrated this approach throughout her career – through her words, through her engagement with others and truly in all aspects of his life,” Carissa Slotterback, the dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs in Pittsburgh, said in a statement.

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