Thomas O. Varnell, CEO and Scout Executive of Sam Houston Area Council Boy Scouts of America, Announces Retirement

By: Kirsten Darnell
| Published 01/05/2021

Thomas O. (Tom) Varnell

HOUSTON, TX -- Thomas O. (Tom) Varnell has announced his retirement after 35 years of service to the Boy Scouts of America. As CEO/Scout Executive for the Sam Houston Area Council BSA, one of the largest councils in the nation, Tom has led the effort to bring the scouting program to thousands of youth across 16 counties in Southeast Texas since 2007. He will be stepping down March 31, 2021 after 13 years of service in Houston.

Tom has led with transparency, integrity, and fearlessness in undertaking challenging projects and situations. During his tenure in Houston he developed and led highly effective teams of corporate and community volunteers and staff. He increased the Sam Houston Area Council’s endowment, and completed construction of Camp Strake, a major investment in our community’s scouting program.

Tom pioneered innovative methods to reach 'at-risk' youth and grow membership in scouts in lockstep with demographic changes in the Houston community. The Council’s ScoutReach program is a public school-based initiative to provide scouting to youth in traditionally underserved communities. The Council’s more than 10,000 scouts in ScoutReach receive the same opportunities to hike, camp, perform community service, and learn citizenship and character ideals as other scouts, with the assistance of Council staff.

In 2013, through Tom’s leadership, the Sam Houston Area Council began relocating Camp Strake to a new 2,806-acre rural site surrounded by the Sam Houston National Forest outside Coldspring, Texas. The highly anticipated new Camp Strake will enable the Council to deliver a 21st century scouting experience while carrying on the rich history of the original Camp Strake. The new Camp Strake was completed in 2020 and will be welcoming its first campers in just a few weeks.

“Our community has been incredibly blessed to have Tom Varnell at the helm of the scouting movement for the past 13 years,” stated Clay Williams, Chairman of the Sam Houston Area Council BSA. “His vision and leadership have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of youth who’ve learned about duty, honor and country through the scouting program and Tom’s efforts. We thank him and wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Williams noted that the Council has begun a search for Mr. Varnell’s replacement, and expects to name a successor in March, 2021.

As a young man Tom Varnell was an Eagle Scout and a Vigil member of the Order of the Arrow. Tom began his career with the Boy Scouts of America in 1985 in Birmingham, Alabama as a District Executive in the Birmingham Area Council. He was later selected to serve as the President/Scout Executive of the lstrouma Area Council in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and, in 2002, the Capitol Area Council in Austin, TX. While in Austin Tom led a team to address race relations by partnering with the Austin Police Department. The Police Partnership for Youth recruited police officers to serve as Scout leaders, and was hailed as a success by community leaders.

The Sam Houston Area Council serves approximately 47,000 youth in 16 counties Southeast Texas area through dedicated service and leadership of over 14,000 adult volunteers. Scouting is completely funded by the generosity of those who believe in its mission. Support of Scouting provides programs, services, professional support, as well as year-round outdoor programs -- all designed to lead youth to lifelong values, service, and achievement. For more information about the Sam Houston Area Council, please visit

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