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Whatever Is Rightly Done, However Humble, Is Noble? A Personal Story

As a young graduate engineer, nearly two decades ago, I met a charming man who had been the chief executive of Rolls-Royce. I had the pleasure of working with him on some global aviation projects with British, European, Canadian and American aerospace companies.

This distinguished Englishman was extremely bright, very knowledgeable and highly eccentric! Very English qualities those! He would do things carefully and methodically without making mistakes, especially where it mattered. Otherwise, if one were to watch him pour tea followed by a teaspoon of sugar, most of it was out of the cup, on the table and then on the floor!

If he would spot a mistake in his personal communication, he would always revert back and clean it off, and then proceed further. He would apologise profusely for any small mistake in handling human relationships and feelings especially in his written communication, which was always immaculate.

When we would write a message either to our own team of engineers or to any of the major aerospace groups at CEO level or in-between, he would always, always sit down, take out a fountain pen, and hand-write his message before entering it on to the computer screen. He would always begin, "Dear ...., start off on a personal note, move on to the subject matter and end the message with a heartfelt comment and a personal touch."

I once said to him, your emails and letters are like Monet paintings. We ought to frame them and hang them up on walls at the National Gallery! The letters were exquisite not only for their language but also for their personal touch and layout.

I asked him, "What is the genesis of this marvellous quality?" He said: "Quidvis Recte Factum Quamvis Humile Praeclarum!" in Latin.

Then, nonchalantly, he said, "Translate it!"

O God! Me and my big mouth. It was not possible to come out of this one easily. So mimicking his quality, I sat down slowly. I said, “Give me a minute!" I took out a pen and paper and wrote the Latin words on the left and English words on the right. I thought "Praeclarum" is "very clear" and "Humile" is Humble. "Factum" is "act" and "Recte" is "rightly". So, I said: "Very clear humility comes from right action!"

He replied, one of the two founders of Rolls-Royce, Sir Henry Royce, had this Latin inscription engraved on his fireplace. It means:

"Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble!"

[STOPS]

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DK Matai

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