I remember about thirty years ago stopping to look at a roadside historic marker in Galena with a friend and he asked about the words on the official Maryland seal – “Fatti maschii, parole femine.” I had no idea so researched our motto and have stewed about it ever since.
“Fatti maschii, parole femine” translates as “manly deeds, womanly words,” although there are at least six other official Maryland translations starting in 1622 and leading up to 1993 when Maryland’s State Archivist changed the official Maryland translation to “strong deeds, gentle words.” Behind this multi-century debate is our ongoing struggle with sexism, racism, and other sins. For me, I have come around to find a message and an icon in this motto here on the Eastern Shore.
Elmer Whitby. Elmer was a lifelong Eastern Shoreman who grew up on Wye Island in the early 1900’s, ran a general store in nearby Carmichael with his wife Dorothy, and also hunted and fished and guided and worked the water his entire life. He delivered mail when I met him in 1990 and we were fast friends until his death in 2013 – one day short of his 96th birthday. Elmer and I shared our March 12 birthday and every year would meet for lunch to celebrate – a lunch which eventually turned into an annual gathering of all friends Elmer.
I remember asking Elmer for his thoughts on my Maryland motto conundrum. To him, it made sense from an Eastern Shore perspective. He did the rough stuff all his life like hunting and fishing and carpentry, and as a side gig he even butchered hogs every fall for the families within walking distance. At the same time he tenderly doted on his wife through years of Alzheimer’s, told her how much he loved her every day, and would tear up at the sight of his granddaughter or when reading a note from a friend. Elmer was truly a man of the Earth with rough hands to prove it, but he also used tender words and a gentle touch.
Elmer reminded me of the many Eastern Shore folks he knew who worked the water and the land while also having a tender touch. He described watermen with names like Pie and Honey and Biscuit or even Lovey. He felt working on the water and land, and the alone time it afforded, helped folks keep their priorities in order – especially family and friends first.
“Strong deeds, gentle words.” Despite the Maryland motto’s troubled history, it is aspirational for me. Work hard, but also be there first for family and friends with real kindness and empathy. My friend Elmer Whitby showed the way.
Rob Etgen retired in 2021 after a 40 year career in conservation – the last 31 years as President of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. In retirement Rob is enjoying family and working on global and local sustainability issues with Council Fire consulting out of Annapolis.