He was known as LDS Scouting's "Whittling Pied Piper." It was a well-earned moniker. For decades, Bill Burch carved comical faces from wood that were used as clasps for bolo ties — those two-corded neckties favored by cowboys and oil barons.
Brother Burch, who died recently at 89, crafted tens of thousands of his signature bolos. They have been worn by legions of Scouts from across the globe, along with several prominent politicos and Church leaders. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan, both owned "Burch bolos." So did President Ezra Taft Benson.
A devout Latter-day Saint, Brother Burch even carved a bolo tie for President Gordon B. Hinckley from the same walnut tree used to fabricate the Conference Center podium.
He was a familiar figure at massive Boy Scout gatherings such as national and international Jamborees. And he dutifully participated in the annual priesthood leadership training conferences at New Mexico's Philmont Scout Ranch. He proudly wore the Scout uniform and friends were never scarce.
At Scouting events, Brother Burch would take a seat in front of his colorful bolo display. Then he'd pull from his pocket a small knife, select a block of wood and begin carving. Within minutes he'd be encircled by folks of all ages — drawn to him like the fabled piper. Cub Scouts, teens and grown men would watch him whittle. And they listened and smiled as he shared humorous Scout stories or taught sacred gospel principles, often in the same conversation.
"But their eyes always return to Brother Burch's 83-year-old hands," observed the Church News in a Sept. 23, 2006, profile. "They watch as the whittling knife in his right hand shifts and sways while his left steadies a fist-sized block of aspen. Indeed, Brother Burch's charisma is on display whenever boys and men — scions of today's high-speed, wireless age — fall mesmerized at the sight of an elderly man patiently executing the ancient trade of carving wood with sharpened steel."
Brother Burch was a humble, approachable man. But he had to have recognized his capacity to influence and lift others. He would utilize both his artistic and spiritual gifts to serve and to teach.
At Scout events worldwide he handed out as many carved bolos as possible to young men and leaders in uniform. It was said he would keep a keen eye out for that one boy at each gathering who didn't quite fit in — the one in need of a kind word and a handcrafted wooden memento.
In exchange for payment, Brother Burch would often ask his beneficiaries to promise to live the Scout Oath and Law. "As we help others, we are fulfilling our life's need — that's what we're here for," he once told a reporter.
Folks of all ages — male and female — would count Brother Burch as a teacher, friend and mentor. Yes, he was a skilled artisan and his hilarious carvings became treasured keepsakes for tens of thousands. But his greatest attributes were his charitable concern for others and his willingness to offer his talent and time.
One need not own a whittling knife to be a Bill Burch-like friend or mentor. Kindness remains the essential tool to carve friendships and help others recognize the blessings of Christ's gospel.
"Kindness is the essence of greatness," declared Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve. "[It] is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes" (general conference, April 2005).
Elder Wirthlin's fellow apostle, Elder M. Russell Ballard, spoke of the value of kindness through service in our communities: "As a pure expression of our love and concern, we can reach out to those who have need of our help. Many of you have put on Helping Hands T-shirts and worked tirelessly to relieve suffering and improve your communities.
"There are countless ways to serve. Through our heartfelt kindness and service, we can make friends with those whom we serve. From these friendships come better understanding of our devotion to the gospel and a desire to learn more about us" (general conference, April 2011).
In his Sept. 25, 2010, address to a global audience of Relief Society sisters, President Thomas S. Monson taught that being kind and charitable toward others is to follow the Master's path.
"Charity, that pure love of Christ, is manifest when a group of young women from a singles ward travels hundreds of miles to attend the funeral services for the mother of one of their Relief Society sisters. Charity is shown when devoted visiting teachers return month after month, year after year to the same uninterested, somewhat critical sister. It is evident when an elderly widow is remembered and taken to ward functions and to Relief Society activities. It is felt when the sister sitting alone in Relief Society receives the invitation, 'Come, sit by us.'
"In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.
"Charity has been defined as 'the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love,' the 'pure love of Christ;' and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with [her].
" 'Charity never faileth.' May this long-enduring Relief Society motto, this timeless truth, guide you in everything you do. May it permeate your very souls and find expression in all your thoughts and actions."