When Boy Scouts seeking an Eagle rank attend their prerequisite Citizenship Merit Badge class, they usually come stocked with pencils, paper, and a stoic determination to get through the boring lecture and accompanying busy work as quickly as possible. However, sponsored by the Mission Bend and Alief Wards of the Richmond Texas Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of Troops 1195 and 282 in the Sam Houston Council in Houston, recently came away from their “instruction” excited and full of chatter, after a personal visit from US Congressman Pete Olson (Rep. 22nd District).
Before an intimate audience of thirty, Olson a practicing Methodist, began the evening by emphasizing to the boys the importance of listening to God and following their hearts. He described for them his own experience of graduating from Clear Lake High School in Houston and going on to play college basketball at Rice University. However, while in his freshman year, he realized he lacked the talent to become an NBA star. He candidly shared how difficult it was for him to watch a 20-year dream die and how he opted for a computer science degree instead.
Olson kept both youths and adults laughing as he outlined his journey from passion to disillusionment to passion again, as, degree in hand, he abandoned computer science for law school at the University of Texas at Austin. The then discovered he cared for practicing law as little as he cared for the solitary programming of mainframes in refrigerated buildings. Having passed the Texas State Bar, he then decided his true passion lay in becoming an astronaut, and since “I’m not very smart; I can’t be one of those rocket scientists who goes up in space because of their brains,” he would have to become a pilot to make that dream happen. To that end, he joined the US Navy.
The congressman kept the attention of the boys riveted on him as he briefly recounted his experiences as a pilot of P-3C Orion aircraft while stationed at Oahu, Hawaii. His mission: seeking out Russian nuclear submarines and preventing missile launches. Although he failed to mention it to the Scouts, Olson flew missions over the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, as well as the Pacific.
Olson’s career continued its circuitous route when the Navy stationed him at Washington, D.C., first at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then as a liaison officer for the US Senate. His desire to spend more time with his young family led to the resignation of his commission. Although Olson intended to return to Clearlake and hopefully NASA, the opportunity to work with Senator Phil Graham (R-Texas) presented itself and they stayed at the Capitol. Following Senator Graham’s retirement, Olson then became the Chief of Staff of Graham’s replacement, former Texas Attorney General, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The Olsons finally found the opportunity to return home to Texas when the 22nd District Seat opened up. Although the seat was lost to Democrat Nick Lampson at the time of Republican Tom DeLay’s resignation in 2006, Olson handily defeated Lampson in the next Congressional election.
When asked to name his favorite president, the congressman immediately named Abraham Lincoln. “He took our country to war over the basic rights of human beings. That was a huge, huge, huge sacrifice. He was killed because he did it. I think that’s an amazing statement of courage to take our country to war to make sure that people are people.”
Olson ended by encouraging Scouts to get involved in the political process, first by registering to vote on their 18th birthday, and ensuring that their parents are registered to vote. He emphasized the important of the political process. “And then get out and make your voice heard. Petition. First Amendment. Send me some letters about your concerns.”
He emphasized that “Because I listened to my heart and joined the Navy—that crazy thing with the computer science degree and law degree—I listened to God, and guess what? I became a congressman because I went down the path. So, my advice to you guys is, listen to your heart, pray, and listen to God.”
Stated Boy Scout Preston Kilgore following the meeting, “It’s going to stay in my mind for the rest of my life. It was really awesome. He relied on his heart. That’s very good advice. He started off as a basketball player and changed the dream. Fast. Faster than I could do myself. That’s really amazing, too. He’s more important than an NBA player. He makes decisions that are important. He’s an inspiration.”
Olson now lives in Sugar Land in southwest suburban Houston with his wife and two children.