Meeting this week in the Lords tea-room, Will Howie recalled how astonished he was, when offered the job as NCE's political correspondent 25 years ago, to learn that he was expected to turn up in the office only once or twice a week.
In practice he soon got into the habit of attending most days, for a few hours anyway. His real place of work was Westminster.
Another peculiarity I recalled was that he never asked for a rise. I am confident that he has never questioned his salary: that would be ungentlemanly. For someone who cares deeply about others, he is singularly uncaring for himself. In part he has his wife Mairi to fend for him; in part he needs others to judge him.
Like all MPs who lose elections, Will was saddened when he lost Luton in 1970. Though Rendel Palmer & Tritton took him back generously, he was restless. By 1973 NCE had become profitable and was recruiting specialists, detached from the weekly rush, to add stature.
Will's brief was to translate what politicians were doing and saying into what engineers needed to know to optimise the future. Simple to say: almost impossible to do. His role was to prove stormy.
As a learned society, the ICE has always been determinedly apolitical. Yet it had been bold enough to give editorial independence to NCE. Quite a number of the influential members were wary and watchful. Will was usually first in line to ride any conflict, despite being his own most stringent censor.
Over the years he developed a wider brief. Always his pieces were reasoned, balanced and kind even when critical.
The mid-1970s was the time when trade unions came closest to attracting significant numbers of chartered engineers, and the engineering institutions were worried. Ostensibly it was about conflict bet- ween possible strike action and professional obligations, but many young- er members believed that the institutions were dominated by employers and, as such, anti-trade union. Will wrote a definitive book, Trade unions and the professional engineer.
Knowing the sensitivity, a draft text was sent to then ICE Secretary Garth Watson, and I went round with Will to hear his reactions. He had read carefully and had lots of little suggestions. He was also disturbed more deeply, and eventually admitted fear of how 'the great and the good' might see the ICE's role as publisher. 'What he doesn't recognise,' whispered Will as we left, 'is that I am one of the great and the good.'
Indeed in 1978, Will was made a life peer by Prime Minister Jim Callaghan. He was also at the time a member of the Finniston inquiry into the engineering professions. He became the easiest conduit from Great George Street into both Houses of Parliament. Ever since he has worked assiduously promoting the interests of all engineering professions.
To say the least, everyone at NCE was astonished to be working alongside a noble lord. We were pleased and proud too. He was still Will to everyone in the office and outside; he did not want to be treated any differently and made sure he wasn't.
My fear was that we would lose him to bigger challenges, but fortunately that was not to be.
Tensions between the Institution and NCE still ebb and flow today. I believe they will only disappear if NCE becomes completely anodyne and useless.
Last year the Institution awarded the Garth Watson Medal to Will in recognition of his services to the profession, particularly his contribution to New Civil Engineer. I was surprised at how much pleasure
this token of appreciation gave him.
'After all these years of fighting the cause, it was a relief to feel that some people at Great George Street cared and perhaps understood,' he said.
This week Will told me that he found working for NCE useful in the Lords. Through the magazine his voice is heard outside, and
fellow peers often make it their business to alert him to issues. That's ironic considering all the effort which some bodies take to influence Parliament. It is also proof of the mutual dependence of politics and the media.
I bid you fond farewell, Will, with a poem on behalf of NCE readers. Go on striving for many years yet!