Friday, May 2, 2008

Order out of Chaos

We should all take a moment, today, to remember one of the most important unknown people in American history. On this date in 1837, Henry Martyn Robert was born.

His distinguished career included overseeing construction of the extensive fortifications around Washington, DC and Philadelphia during the Civil War. He later co-chaired the 1901 commission that made recommendations for improving coastal barriers and breakwaters after a major hurricane destroyed Galveston, Texas. But it was his contribution between these two roles for which we should pay him homage.

In 1876, former Brigadier General Robert wanted to bring some order to the various San Francisco civic meetings he attended or presided over. He decided to compile “Robert’s Rules of Order” to help his colleagues with their civic tasks.

Initially, publishers were not interested in such a compilation. Robert’s used his own money to publish the first 4,000 copies. It is now one of the most read and referenced texts on meeting management in the world. Robert passed away on May 11, 1923, but his role in bringing order to countless meetings lives on.

In September 2001, the National Association of Parliamentarians commemorated the 125th anniversary of Robert’s Rules by placing a brass plaque in front of his former home at 1812 N Street, NW in Washington, DC. For the rest of us, we should honor his memory by making sure all our meetings run well.

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