Maurice Lowther, who died last week, was an engineer who spent most of his professional life making sure that, when the people of Tyne and Weir turned on their taps, there was water and it was safe. He was instrumental in creating Keilder Water, Europe’s largest artificial lake. As a young soldier, he had been posted to West Africa where he was horrified by the sight of children drinking dirty water from puddles; 30 years later, he used his position as a water company executive to do something about it by founding WaterAid.
In other words, Maurice Lowther was a successful and conscientious professional who gave a lifetime of public service and used such influence as he accrued to save and transform the lives of some of the world’s neediest people. As far as I can see, he received no public honour.
Meanwhile. this week sees the emergence of another honours list and another honours list row. Another row about gongs and knighthoods for people who’ve stirred the Prime Minister’s tea, bankrolled political parties, just done their job or – as in the case of the latest list – been spectacularly unsuccessful at the job they were given. And not a lollipop lady or water engineer in sight.
Cato the Elder got it right – “I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue than why I have one.”