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From Hand to Heart

PEOPLE + LIFE: How a lifelong love of handwritten letters led to a unique promise to our 40,000 employees.

Ophelia Moses Jackson, my grandmother, was my first pen pal. She lived in Louisiana. I lived in California. We started when I was 5 and she was 65.

Her letters arrived in a simple white envelope and were written on lined school paper. Her cursive handwriting was beautiful. And she always included a crisp $5 bill because I was the only grandchild who wrote to her. My sister and cousins thought I was odd, but our letter-writing connected us —long before email, cell phones, texting and video calls.

My love affair with writing and receiving letters stayed with me as an adult, and I have always made time for it, even amid a hectic work schedule. To help me feel close to my daughter when I was traveling internationally for work, I wrote letters to her from the time she was 3 months old up until she was about 18, when the pandemic curtailed my travels. I wrote about the country I was in, what was going on in her life, and work triumphs and challenges.

Early on, I used hotel stationery, which was usually tucked away in a desk drawer (a long obsolete practice). My co-workers helped me procure beautiful local stamps. Over 18 years, only one letter never arrived and only one was photocopied. (I did that because I was in Moscow and I was skeptical that it would arrive in the United States.) I always told my daughter that we would read them together when she turned 18. She is now 21, and we are still working our way through them.

At the start of 2023, I decided to share my love of letter-writing with my 40,000 co-workers at Chevron by making them a promise: If they sent me a handwritten letter with answers to three questions, I would write back. I wanted to know how they were doing, what they were excited about, and what they were doing to rest and recharge.

Emotional energy and a piece of yourself is sent with a letter. It’s meditative, causes us to slow down and is one of life’s simple joys."


I am still responding to letters from my co-workers and have stopped counting them. I stopped logging them in a spreadsheet. I stopped sending emails to let them know that their letter had arrived and that I would respond soon. I could not keep up. But I never saw this as a chore. It’s hard to describe the joy of receiving a handwritten letter. Looking at my pile of work mail became exciting. Would I get a letter today? Seeing my name written on an envelope amid a pile of junk mail was exhilarating.

As much as handwritten letters—both writing and receiving them—brings me joy, the art form is rife with problems. They cannot be spell-checked, auto-corrected or edited. Unless you make a copy, you have no record of what you wrote. Vulnerability abounds. One letter was written in pencil (so that mistakes could be erased, as the sender explained). But every letter was joyful and optimistic.

At my first post-pandemic extended HR leadership team meeting, I decided to handwrite a personal message to each of the 107 attendees. Midway through my boxes of stationery, I concluded that this was one of the dumbest ideas I’d ever had. My hand hurt. But I kept going. The effort was worth it, as it strengthened the connective tissue of leaders who had not seen each other in person in over two years and who had stepped up during the most challenging time our function has faced.

I also gave each leader three blank thank-you cards. We built time into our agenda to write to three people who made a difference during the pandemic—a family member, a co-worker or a friend. Watching the group put their heads down and apply pen to paper was magical. One colleague wrote to his mother and months later shared with me that he would never have done that if was not part of our meeting.

In an era of instant communication, letter- writing can feel hopelessly outdated. It’s not. Emotional energy and a piece of yourself is sent with a letter. It’s meditative, causes us to slow down and is one of life’s simple joys. 

Rhonda Morris 8380 square final

Rhonda Morris is vice president and CHRO at Chevron.