Frances Hesselbein, former Girl Scouts CEO, dies at 107

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

Hesselbein, born in 1915, started her career in the Girl Scouts in the 1940s, when she helped out a neighbor by becoming the leader of a 30-girl troop, the Girl Scouts said in a blog post Sunday. Eventually, what was meant as just a favor, became nearly a decade of service before she took on more responsibility within the organization, the Girl Scouts said.

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

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

“We are forever 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 served as a source of inspiration and truly embodied what it means to be a Girl Scout.”

She was named CEO in 1976, the very first to hold that title within the organization, the Girl Scouts said, noting that she created a planning and management system meant to unite troops around the globe, and edited the organization’s handbook in an effort to push girls to pursue STEM careers.

Hesselbein also grew the reach of the Girl Scouts with the creation of Daisies — which are troops meant for younger children. That 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. Getty Images

She remained CEO through 1990. In 1998, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then 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 her with an honorary doctorate in 2001, and in 2009, created the Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement in honor of her work, the school said.

In 2017, it also created the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum, which researches leadership and public service skills. In addition, she was the co-editor of over 35 books published in over 20 different languages, the university said.

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

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up