Life is good
After an attack left Clive Jones blind at the age of 26, he put the pieces of his life back together with the support of the community. Now, Freemasonry is helping him to give back
Eleven years ago, Clive Jones found himself freewheeling down a steep hill in High Wycombe on a tandem bike with an ex-Navy friend, praying the brakes would work. The four-day charity ride to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War would last 252 miles, stretching from Buckingham Palace to Cardiff Castle.
It was Clive’s most challenging fundraising event, and not just because the tandem was laborious to ride. The journey was all the more remarkable because Clive was blinded in 2000 in an unprovoked assault while serving with the Welsh Guards. After losing his sight, he has spent the last 18 years rebuilding his life.
Today, Wales-born Clive is a busy father of three, optimistic and active within his local community in Shropshire, and keen to raise money for deserving charities or individuals in need. But the memories from December 2000 are never far away. ‘I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ he says now.
Clive was only 26 at the time of the incident, married with two young daughters. Joining the army had been his childhood dream, and he had planned to serve for many more years. The assault brought those dreams to an end.
‘After the assault, I was in a coma for a week. When I woke up, I soon realised there was something very drastically wrong with my eyes,’ he remembers. ‘I had been a highly capable soldier, and when I woke up, I was a scared child. I don’t feel embarrassed saying that now. I couldn’t even do the simplest things, like tying my own shoelaces.’
Clive’s initial fears related to his job and his family’s financial security, but he was also anxious about the future of his marriage. He need not have worried: Clive and Stephanie have now been married for 22 years. They have a 13-year-old son in addition to their two daughters, now aged 19 and 22. ‘The charity Blind Veterans UK (BVUK, formerly St Dunstan’s) taught me how to live again,’ he explains. ‘I’m now highly independent at home and within my local community, so life is good.’
KEEPING IT LIGHT
One of the most important skills Clive gained with BVUK’s help was learning how to use a computer: ‘That gave me a lifeline to the outside world again, and it has done a hell of a lot for my confidence.’ He also took up archery in 2001, becoming a British Blind Sport indoor and outdoor national champion. ‘To be fair, a blind man in charge of bows and arrows does sound a bit scary,’ Clive says, laughing.
In the past he has organised competitions on the grounds of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and he has recently re-embraced the sport. But whatever the activity, a sense of humour is an essential part of Clive’s armoury – especially when fundraising. So far, he has raised in excess of £76,000; his efforts include sponsored walks, raffles, auctions and his legendary curry nights. One particular event took place on St David’s Day in 2016, when Clive decided that everyone attending should wear something Welsh.
‘I wore a full-length red dragon onesie and it was so blooming hot!’ he recalls. ‘Some people think I have a dry sense of humour; others reckon I have a rather sick sense of humour – maybe it’s a bit of both. But life is short, I say, so enjoy it.’
Jeremy Lund, Shropshire Deputy Provincial Grand Master, is a staunch admirer of Clive’s optimism. ‘The sacrifices Clive has made for charity are remarkable. There was even the wearing of the despised England shirt for every match during the Six Nations tournament in 2016,’ he says, with tongue firmly in cheek. ‘The effort nearly broke him.’
Keith Stokes, a long-time friend and a member of St Mary’s Lodge, No. 8373, describes Clive as ‘open and lovable’. He adds: ‘That’s why his charitable work is so well supported, because everyone wants to be there. He even organises charity darts nights and, let me tell you, trying to play darts with a blind man is a bit dangerous!’
‘If you can listen and guide, allowing yourself to be guided to a degree – and do all of that with a smile on your face – you’ll be a good Master’
A SENSE OF BELONGING
While Clive may laugh in the face of adversity, the one thing he’s very serious about is his commitment to Freemasonry. He was 30 when he became a Freemason, following a BVUK summer camp at HMS Sultan in Gosport.
‘Nineteen out of the 25 people attending were masons, and I’d always liked what the organisation represented,’ recalls Clive, who, after enquiring further, was proposed by another blind veteran and initiated on 25 April 2005.
‘The sense of belonging was immediate,’ he says. ‘It’s a very inclusive organisation, and being blind has never been an issue. In St Mary’s, my Mother Lodge in Market Drayton, I’m now in the Master’s chair for the third time [his previous tenures were 2011 and 2012]. I’m Worshipful Master of the Armed Forces Lodge, No. 9875, in Monmouthshire – which I was very proud to help found. I also run two masonic groups for blind veterans. One involves a phenomenal weekend every year in Brighton, and the other is a week in Llandudno. If anything, being blind has spurred me on.’
Acting as Worshipful Master three times has given Clive a very clear idea of what the role requires. ‘The ability to listen is really important. The Master is the head of the lodge, but he’s only as good as his officers and members. If you can listen and guide, allowing yourself to be guided to a degree – and do all of that with a smile on your face – you’ll be a good Master.’
Certainly, Clive has loved the opportunities to lead his lodge: ‘I actually quite like the strains and stresses of it, which is just as well. When I was assaulted, I also suffered some short-term memory loss, so it’s more difficult for me to learn the rituals and retain all the information.’
With Shropshire aiming to raise a total of £1 million during its five-year Festival Appeal, St Mary’s Lodge has already reached 150 per cent of its target – a phenomenal achievement a year ahead of schedule. Being part of an organisation with such strong values also makes Clive very proud.
‘It’s so rewarding to make a financial difference to people’s lives, or to be able to relieve everyday hardships. The “helping” aspect of our work is just wonderful.’
The desire to help others is part of Clive’s own personal mantra, but it’s something he plays down. ‘He’s very thoughtful, but he’s definitely not comfortable with being appreciated,’ Alex Knight, the manageress of Clive’s local pub, the Kings Arms, says. ‘He came to my wedding and gave us the most unique gift. I’m a big Petula Clark fan, and Clive arranged for her to send us a message of congratulations. It was mentioned in one of the speeches at the wedding, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone turn a brighter shade of red than Clive did that day!’
‘I have never wanted to be recognised for my charity work, but the past few years do seem to have involved a lot of awards,’ Clive acknowledges. ‘Being awarded Honorary Townsman of Market Drayton is really special. We moved here after my assault to get a fresh start, and it’s wonderful to be accepted by my adopted home town.
‘The community has been so supportive of my fundraising work. If I ask, they give. It’s not a wealthy town, but what we don’t have in money, we’ve got in heart.’
Looking ahead, Clive admits that the only downside of being so busy is that he doesn’t spend enough time with family and friends. ‘I would love an eighth day in the week. However, the sense of achievement within my life is fantastic. My happiness comes through helping others to be happy.’
‘The community has been so supportive of my fundraising work. If I ask, they give’
‘Clive’s blindness has not defined him – far from it. Instead, he has achieved his own victory over blindness and developed into a truly inspirational Freemason. His fundraising and caring for others is remarkable, and the Province of Shropshire is blessed and proud to be able to share and learn from his infectious enthusiasm for life. He is an ambassador for all that is good and true about Freemasonry.’ Peter Allan Taylor, Past Provincial Grand Master for Shropshire
‘Clive lost his sight in the service of his country but has not allowed this to hinder him in his masonry or in his other fundraising activities. If anything, he is energised by it. To his many masonic friends and acquaintances, he embodies the spirit of “Darkness Visible” – communicating light to those around him. He is truly an inspirational man and mason.’ Jeremy Lund, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Shropshire
‘I’ve known Clive as a friend for some 27 years. We served in the Welsh Guards together and now we’re both members of St Mary’s lodge. I admire Clive’s tenaciousness and his positivity, and the fact that he is so widely respected within the lodge and the community of Market Drayton. He is a brilliant Master because he likes everyone to be involved and to feel comfortable, and he brings such a sense of fun to every meeting he holds. He’s phenomenal, really.’ Keith Stokes, friend and fellow Freemason
Recent recognition for Clive
Honoured by Blind Veterans UK for his charitable work
Finalist in the Courage category in the Pride of Shropshire Awards
Finalist in the Inspiration category in the Soldiering On Awards
Finalist in the ITV Fundraiser of the Year, Midlands, category at the Pride of Britain Awards
Named Honorary Townsman of Market Drayton for his contributions to charity and community life