In the early hours of Sunday 29th November Danny Fitzgerald sadly passed away.
Danny was one of our Scout Leaders being involved with the Group from 2001 to 2011. Many of you may remember Danny who was always full of life and thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor aspects of Scouting. He loved being at camp especially our annual survival camps, spending the night under a tarpaulin or around the fire enjoying a burger or sausage. Danny helped grow the numbers within the troop and was always happy to impart his knowledge and experience to the Scouts.
Mike Phillipson, former GSL provided the following words reflecting on Danny’s time with 17th Reigate:
Neither Danny nor I had any thoughts of becoming involved in 17th Reigate Scout Group, but it seemed our wives had other ideas. In 2003 the incumbent Scout Leaders were moving on with immediate effect, and unless other parents stepped up then the Section would have folded. Unbeknown to Danny and me, Lynn and Michelle (bless them) had dobbed us into the Group as possibly being interested in helping to run the Scout Section. And so it was that Danny and I found ourselves at a meeting in the Marquis of Granby in Redhill, along with two other dads equally perplexed how they’d found themselves there, listening to the standard pitch “it will only be a couple of hours a week”. Like mugs we all fell for this and thus the die was cast. Danny would be Scout Leader and the rest of us Assistants. In hindsight our wives knew what they were doing – this was the start of a long-lasting friendship between Danny and me, which continued to the end, way past our Scouting days.
Wind the clock forward a couple of days after that inaugural meeting. Danny and I met up at the Scout Shop to get our uniforms. Eventually, after some optimistic initial sizes we found stuff which fitted. We paid, then looked at each other and said, “what the **** have we just agreed to?”. Too late then to back out.
Go forward again a couple of days to our first Scout meeting. There we were, feeling vaguely self-conscious in our brand-new togs, and utterly terrified at the thought of entertaining twelve teenage lads for two hours, only three of whom belonged to us Leaders. But in the end, it was okay – we survived as did the kids, and afterwards we adjourned to the Parish bar for a post-meeting debrief (which became a regular and necessary occurrence). A couple of pints later, we thought that we might just make this Scouting lark work and have a few laughs along the way.
And so it turned out. Danny was a great Scout Leader. He never thought he was and that someone else would do it better, but this wasn’t the case. He commanded the respect of Scouts and other Leaders and was able to reassure parents that lunatics weren’t running the asylum – that the programme of activities was lively and inventive and with Danny steering the ship then their kids may just learn something and have a good time. He was never afraid to get involved and try new things, to push his own and the kids’ boundaries. He was especially good encouraging those kids who needed Scouts – maybe with difficult personal circumstances for which Scouting on a Friday evening provided respite. And he must have been doing something right – by the time Danny stood down as Leader over one hundred kids had been through his Scout Section and it had trebled in size. That’s a pretty good legacy.
We learned early that planning an evening ensured good fun on the night. Danny was keen that we spent a lot of evenings outdoors – hiking, axe and knife-work, wide games, pioneering, outdoor cooking, and such like. Here Danny was in his element and knew what he was doing. He had a good sense of direction (unfortunately many of the kids did not and we routinely spent hours searching the Surrey countryside for misplaced Scouts). He knew how to lash poles together to make pioneering projects (unfortunately no-one else did, as demonstrated once when a post the size of a telegraph pole came loose and crashed to the ground about a foot from Danny. Had it hit him it would have driven him into the earth like a tent-peg. He merely looked at it, looked at us, and said to me, “bit close mate”). He could sense a trap – the kids had built rafts out of timber and plastic barrels and I persuaded Danny that he had to be aboard as it needed a Leader in case of difficulties. This wasn’t actually the case, but I knew the raft had some very iffy lashings and was hoping it would fall apart in the middle of the pond thus providing endless amusement and good photos. Danny, spotting the trap, steered the raft back to the shore, leapt off safely, and left it to disintegrate with the kids still aboard. A more difficult encounter for him was having to explain to a passing police patrol why he was in his car under a bridge late one evening, with half a dozen axes visible through the window. “Waiting for some boys” required additional explanation to the officers, who were eventually satisfied when he told them he was the Scout Leader manning a base on an evening hike, waiting for his Patrol to turn up. And the axes were merely in transit back to the hall!
Best of all were the camps. From one-nighters to one-week Summer camps they were a laugh from start to finish. Hard work, with planning and logistics, but worth it for the camaraderie and banter which developed around the campfire once the kids had gone to bed. Then, the beers would flow, the fire would be roaring, and we’d sit there mulling over the day and putting the world to rights. Of all the camps we did I think it was the survival camps which Danny enjoyed best (as did I). Two nights of wild camping irrespective of weather – the first night we’d give the kids a tarpaulin to sleep under, the second night we’d take it away and they needed to build their own shelter. Cooking over an open fire, collecting water to drink, simulated medivac rescues – these were great fun. And Danny’s beef stew – cooked for hours in a cauldron with Danny tending it like a new-born – became a thing of legend at every camp and even made it into the lyrics of a song used in Scout entertainment at one of the AGMs (it got a cheer).
Scouting tends to get under the skin and become all-consuming. We wanted – Danny wanted – to succeed, for 17th Reigate Scouts to be memorable, safe, and fun, and for the kids to take away something positive from their experience. By and large this happened. And a side-effect of spending so much time together planning, the meetings themselves, the weekend hikes, the overnight camps, the debriefs in the bar and so on, is that a friendship developed which went way beyond running the Friday night programmes. We hadn’t set out on this road, but Scouting became a big part of our lives and gave both Danny and me something we didn’t know we needed. Maybe a boost in self-confidence, maybe a sense of purpose, whatever. What it gave me was a lifelong friend.
The family have asked for donations in Danny’s name to be made to 17th Reigate Scout Group. Please contact the Group Scout Leader for more details.