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James R. LaVey, Boy Scout advocate

Boy Scouts of AmericaChristianityRoman CatholicismWorld War II (1939-1945)

James R. LaVey, a retired systems equipment engineer who was also a decorated World War II gunner and longtime Boy Scout advocate, died Saturday of pneumonia at his Timonium home. He was 87.

"He was a giant among Scout volunteers and was a kind friend to many," said Jack Simons, a longtime friend and Scoutmaster who lives in Cockeysville. "He will be dreadfully missed."

James Robert LaVey, the son of a production manager and a homemaker, was born and raised in Chicago, where he graduated in 1942 from Kelvyn Park High School. After high school, he attended Wright Junior College for a year.

Mr. LaVey's career in Scouting began in 1934, when he joined Cub Scout Pack 3013. Three years later he transferred to Boy Scout Troop 13 and after moving to a new home, he joined Troop 44.

He was 16 when he gained Eagle Scout status in 1941. He left Troop 44 in 1943 when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces.

After completing basic training, engineer and gunnery school, Mr. LaVey was assigned to a combat crew, and in April 1944, they were assigned a B-17 bomber at Hunter Field, Ga. From there they flew to Grainer Field in New Hampshire, when they joined the 15th Air Force.

They "flew the North Atlantic route to Africa, and then to 6-wing headquarters in Bari, Italy," wrote Mr. LaVey in a biographical sketch. "There we were assigned to the 99th Bomb Group, 347 Bomb Squadron."

Mr. LaVey's wartime record included completing 50 combat missions. After being wounded on the 39th, which forced a two-month hospitalization, he rejoined his squadron, where he flew on the final 11 missions of his career.

Mr. LaVey was discharged at war's end in 1945 with the rank of staff sergeant, and his decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, three Air Medals and the European Theater Medal with seven battle stars.

He also earned the Greek Freedom Medal from the Greek government for his participation in a special mission.

Mr. LaVey returned to Wright Junior College, where he studied for two years before joining Western Electric Corp. as a draftsman at the company's Hawthorne Plant in Chicago.

He was promoted to drafting supervisor in 1955 and was transferred to the company's Baltimore plant in 1965. In 1975, he was named systems equipment engineer, a position he held until retiring in 1981.

Mr. LaVey's interest in Scouting never waned, and when his son, Richard, was 8, he joined Cub Scout Pack 3034 in Lombard, Ill. He became a committee man and a Webelos leader. Both father and son later transferred to Boy Scout Troop 34.

After Mr. LaVey moved to Baltimore, he became active with Troop 497, and later became its treasurer. In 1969, he was appointed as Dulaney District advancement chairman.

It was in his role conducting reviews for generations of Eagle Scout candidates that Mr. LaVey earned lasting respect.

"Jim was a very kind and soft-spoken counselor," said Mr. Simons. "He was strong-willed and gave excellent guidance and on a direct basis."

Mr. LaVey held the interviews, which is part of the process that leads to the conferring of Eagle Scout status, in the basement office of his Timonium home that featured personal items from his World War II and Boy Scout days.

"For decades he was the supervising leader for coordinating the Eagle Scout process in our district, and being in that room surrounded by his Air Force and Boy Scout memorabilia must have been a very memorable experience for these young men," said Mr. Simons. "He had Eagle Scouts and their sons who had become Eagle Scouts that were mentored by him."

During the last 40 years, Mr. LaVey helped 2,018 Towson-area Scouts achieve Scouting's highest honor, and according to an article in The Towson Times, "18 were young men whose fathers he had also supervised on their way to becoming Eagle Scouts as well."

For his efforts, in January of this year, Mr. LaVey was honored with the National Eagle Scout Association's Outstanding Eagle Scout Award; it was the first time the award was presented to a member of the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Mr. LaVey was noted for his Eagle Scout speech, where he explained that after winning the award, an Eagle Scout was a "marked man," reported The Towson Times.

"You have leadership qualities and you're supposed to use them for good," he would tell them.

Mr. LaVey stepped down from his Eagle Scout reviews in 2010. In addition to the 2012 award, he had earlier earned the District Award of Merit, the Silver Beaver Award, Wood Badge Beads, the Vigil Award in the Order of the Arrow, the Commissioners Arrowhead and the James E. West Award.

In addition to his work with Scouting, Mr. LaVey had been a founder in 1981 of the 99th Bomb Group Historical Society.

The organization held annual reunions in different states, and Mr. LaVey and his wife had hosted reunions in 1997 and 2004. He also served as a member of its board and was elected president last year.

Mr. LaVey was also a Grand Knight of Loch Raven Council 5687, Knights of Columbus.

He was an avid camper and hiker. He enjoyed playing bridge and was a member of several card clubs.

Mr. LaVey was a longtime active communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane, Cockeysville, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Surviving are his wife of 62 years, the former Rose N. Caminiti; a son, Richard LaVey of Port Orange, Fla.; two daughters, Margaret Windsor of Taylorsville, Utah, and Bernadette Wathen of Murray, Utah; four grandchildren; and three great-grandsons.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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