Admiral Ronald Lynsdale Pereira PVSM AVSM (1923-1993) was the 10th Chief of Indian Navy. ‘Ronnie’, as he was fondly known, remains one of the most admired & iconic leaders, widely respected & remembered across three services. Today, 25th May 2021, we commemorate his 98th birthday.
His biography ‘Pride & Honour’ authored by Cdr Anup Thomas, a serving officer, traces Ronnie’s journey from his childhood in Bihar, schooling at North Point School, Darjeeling, 1932, to the naval chief’s corner office in South Block. I bring you some snippets from the book here.
Ronnie was an exemplar sportsman & outdoor person — a practical man. He survived a serious accident as a young Lieutenant where his arm almost had to be amputated. As EXO Delhi, he was down with tuberculosis & lost a year in hospital. But he survived many such knocks, keeping his wit & spirit intact.
The book recounts how, during working hours, young Ronnie was a strict no-nonsense gunner. By nightfall, he was a different man — relaxed, warm & on most nights, the life of the party. His laughter described by late Vice Adm VEC Barboza “exploded around you like a thousand stars“.
Mr. TC “Kutty” Narayan, a well-known writer & corporate honcho, who formed a band of sea scouts in Cochin when Lt Pereira was in Gunnery School, recounts how Ronnie rapped him once with “on parade keep your hand where it belongs” when he tried to pull out a hanky to suppress a sneeze! They remained best of friends much after each of them ascended to the top echelons in their chosen profession.
Ronnie was a “hands on” Deputy Commandant (Dep Com) at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in early 70s. He awarded the dreaded ‘Sinhgad‘ punishment generously & accompanied defaulters all the way to the summit, where an ample spread of sandwiches and lime juice would await the harried cadets!
“Always be in uniform when you have to punish someone. Uniform gives you the authority; without it, you are nobody,” he is quoted in the book as telling NDA’s senior termers & training officers.
A small anecdote that covers the corporal manner in which Ronnie as Dep Com NDA dealt with cases of homosexuality struck me as incongruous with his leadership style. But those were the 70s & Ronnie’s Christian education provides context, duly noted by the author.
‘Errant’ cadets found engaging in homosexuality were paraded without their belt in front of the whole academy before being expelled from NDA. The biography notes that some of the cadets arraigned under this charge even tried to commit suicide. Yet the Dep Com didn’t relent (though he visited them in the hospital and ensured best medical help).
Ronnie held many prestigious afloat & shore appointments, including command of capital ships, fleet commander of Eastern Fleet, Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, finally ascending to the top office of CNS on Mar 1, 1979.
Throughout his service career, he lived & breathed “service before self” & led by example. In his own words “professional competence must balance the human qualities of man; if either is deficient, he cannot be a good leader.”
Adm Ronnie Pereira retired in 1982 & moved to their modest home ‘At Last’ in Whitefield, on the outskirts of Bangalore. The couple had to sell off their scooter to fund ‘At Last’, which was popularly known as ‘DSOP home’ in naval circles, being mostly funded from the admiral’s provident fund. After roughing around in the local BMTC buses (never taking a single favour from the local naval community that was more than willing to solve his transportation woes), he bought a new Vespa scooter because, again, he “couldn’t afford a car”!
Bangalore of the 80s did not suit the couple and in 1987, the Pereira’s sold their home ‘At Last’ and moved to temporary premises in Wellington in the Nilgiris, waiting considerable time to get a sale and purchase transaction that was 100% white money. They finally moved into their new abode in the hills ‘Broadsides’ in July 1989, only to sell it four years later (again in ‘white’ money) when the admiral was fighting end-stage lung cancer. His final move to Bangalore by road via Coimbatore was more of a medical evacuation.
The Pereira family’s spartan lifestyle & noble deeds post retirement are beautifully captured by the author; never seeking any favours from the naval fraternity; always ‘giving’ to society more than ‘taking’.
Admiral RL Pereira (Retd) PVSM AVSM, CNS from Mar 79 to Feb 82, passed away of cancer on Oct 14, 1993. His soulmate, the ever kind Phyllis Beatrice Pereira, continued to spend most of the family pension on charity & social work in Bangalore. She breathed her last 20 years later on Nov 18, 2013. He was catholic, she was a protestant. They stuck it out through thick and thin but were laid to rest in graves separated by their faiths.
Ending this post with a few lines from Ronnie’s epic speech: “Leadership without credibility is really a whitened sepulchre of pseudo leadership. It has no use, it has no body and really, it doesn’t achieve anything but money in someone’s bl**dy hip pocket; and that’s no damn leadership at all”.
The book, with timeless lessons, is recommended reading for all aspiring leaders.
The author of ‘With Pride & Honour’, Cdr Anup Thomas, in all humility, asserts that the biography, a Southern Naval Command publication, is “Navy’s book” & he was simply the medium. The hard bound book is available online. Due to Covid lockdowns, the order may not be immediately filled through online sources. Those who wish may place the order directly with EPD Books, India contact number (+91) 6282764628, email: email@example.com.