“Never belittle an employee in front of others,” Christian Cardinal Tumi told me.

Cardinal Tumi

Christian Cardinal Tumi, the Emeritus Archbishop of Douala in Cameroon, passed away on April 04, 2021 at the ripe age of 91. He was someone I worked closely with for a good number of years. For four years (2004-2008), I was the managing director of the diocesan media house, commonly known by its French acronym MACACOS (Maison Catholique de la Communication Sociale), comprising a printing press and later a radio station (Radio Veritas).

I remember informing Cardinal Tumi, in an informal chat, that I was excited by an offer of a good departure package my American employer, for whom I had worked for over 20 years, was proposing to employees who wanted to retire early. It had always been my intention not to work for anyone else by the time I reached fifty, and the five-zero number was already hanging within reach. The departure package in question dropped on my lap just on time and I was happy to grab it and leave. I shared the good news with Cardinal Tumi who, after listening to me, suddenly said he had another job offer for me. Could I take over the management of MACACOS that was then in the hands of a French man?

“I don’t believe,” he continued, “that we should let French people continue to operate our businesses for us, at least not in Church. That’s why I want you to take it over.”  When he saw how taken aback I was by his offer, he laughed and then pointed to the open door of the Cathedral a few metres away. “Go in there and ask the ‘owner’ of that house what he thinks about my proposal. After that, go back home sleep over it, discuss it with your wife, and bring me an answer when you are ready.”

Even though I did take his advice to spend sometime before the Blessed Sacrament in the hope that the Lord would tell me what to do, I heard nothing. However, after sitting there for a while in silence, the initial consternation I had felt when the offer was made began to give way to some form of calm acceptance of the inevitable. My mind was further eased by my wife’s surprisingly calm reaction when I told her about the offer.  “How do you say NO! to your Bishop?” was all she asked. Was that the voice I had listened to in vain in front of the Blessed Sacrament coming to me through my wife? Maybe it was.

The next day, I went to the Cardinal and told him I accepted his offer. “There is one condition, though. I do not intend to spend more than a year on this job because I have other projects which I have been putting on hold for too long. I am eager to get to them.” In his characteristic manner, and with the infectious smile that never seemed to leave his face, he merely placed his hand on my head, said a prayer and gave me his blessing.

“I have no doubt that you will do it. I have confidence in you; I have seen your work in the paper, I have read your articles. You are the right person for this job!”  I felt truly humbled by his words, which seemed to boost my self-confidence, and what had had seemed so scary just a day before, suddenly looked doable.  A few days later, he introduced me to the French man, who was running the company. Even though I knew who he was because I came to the newspaper regularly to drop off articles or for our editorial meetings, I had never spoken to him before. He praised the Cardinal’s choice of someone who was no stranger to the house. He and I then began to meet on a regular basis to discuss the handover notes he had for me.

Before I took over the manager’s seat, the Cardinal gave me one more firm advice: “Never ever berate an employee before other employees, no matter how serious the error. Call such an employee to your office, close the door behind you and give him or her a piece of your mind. But, once you leave your office, let no one beside such an employee know what has transpired behind that closed door. Keep a smile on your face. Let the employee’s dignity be untouched. However, any employee you see doing something commendable, praise him or her in the open. Let others know that you are happy with the said employee’s action. Always make sure you catch people doing the right thing and praise them for it in the open.” That was an advice I grabbed with both hands and have never let go to this day.

Instead of the one year I said I would spend at the helm of MACACOS, I ended up spending four years, only stepping down when the new Archbishop came in and I handed the relay baton over to someone of his own choice. Cardinal Tumi’s injunction still rings in my ears to this day. That is why each time I hear people in authority insulting their subordinates in front of others — a common practice in civil and religious circles in Cameroon — I always cringe in horror. In such instances, I always hear Christian Cardinal Tumi’s voice ringing in my ears: “Never belittle an employee in front of others, no matter how grave the error committed.”

Rest in peace, Christian Cardinal Tumi, Priest, Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal of the Church of Rome.

Martin Jumbam, July 25, 2021


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