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One Mason and his hearing dogs

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

John Broster’s early life was to have a profound effect on his life: at the age of three he caught diphtheria and has been deaf ever since.

John managed to adjust to his disability and attended Hutton Grammar School and Liverpool University. He then trained as a chartered accountant and after qualifying worked for a firm of accountants in Preston. In 1968 he married Mary, who was a teacher, and they have lived in the same house in Preston ever since. Soon after they married, John started his own accountancy business.

John was initiated into Freemasonry in 1970 in the Lodge of Unanimity No.113 in the Province of West Lancashire.  He served as Worshipful Master in 1982 and Treasurer from 1987 to 1992, and received his first Provincial appointment of Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon in 1992.  In 2001 he was promoted to Past Provincial Deputy Grand Superintendent of Works and in November he will receive a further promotion to Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden.

He is also a member of Uter Pendragon Lodge No.3481 in the Province of Cumberland and Westmoreland, which is close to their holiday home.

In the Royal Arch, he was exalted into Unanimity Chapter No.113 in 1983, becaming First Principal in 1992, and appointed Treasurer in 1994 - a post he still holds today. In 1996 he was appointed to Past Provincial Assistant Grand Sojourner, and was promoted to Past Provincial Grand Scribe N in 2003.

In 1996 whilst on holiday in Devon, Mary noticed a market stall which was selling goods for the charity, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and exchanged addresses with Mrs Guymer who was running the stall.

A few months later their pet dog Robbie sadly died. Having taken some details about the charity John applied for a dog. Following an interview he was accepted and in January 1997 John spent a week with ‘Coppers’ at the charity's northern training centre.

Whilst John was training, Mary researched the charity and was surprised to discover that Hearing Dogs for Deaf People had benefited considerably from a grant from United Grand Lodge of England, which had provided funding to buy and build their first training centre plus a working balance for the first 18 months of being formed.

Coppers had already had intensive sound training and been ‘puppy socialised’ at weekends by Ian Frinthian Franks, who was coincidentally at that time preparing to go into the chair of Lodge of St Germain No.566 in the Province of Yorkshire North and East Riding.  Coppers had become increasingly familiar with masonic ritual during long walks with Ian!

The charity said they were delighted they were able to place Coppers with John, as Coppers was the first ‘Hearing dog’ to be placed with a Freemason. Having spoken to staff at Freemasons Hall in London the charity asked John “to go out and reach as many Freemasons as possible to thank them and show them how well the money donated by UGLE had been spent.” John and Mary were pleased to do this and they immediately started to tell people how they had been given Coppers who quickly carved out a Masonic role for himself!

Coppers quickly became John’s most valuable hearing aid and constant companion. Since he was already a Master Mason it was only natural that Coppers should accompany John to the Lodge of Unanimity, and the first time Coppers attended the lodge it was recorded in the minutes.  Coppers quickly became familiar with the ritual, enjoyed walking in procession, knew when to sit and stand and was known to give a prompt to others in the lodge! 

In February 1997 Coppers had his first studio photograph taken, which appeared in Freemasonry Today and is also displayed at Preston Masonic Hall.  His television debut came in December 1999 when John was interviewed about Freemasonry for the deaf by BBC2 ‘See hear’.

In July 2000 when John went to London to receive a certificate from another masonic order, Coppers also received his own certificate, proclaiming him ‘Illustrious Bro Coppers 30th Degree’. John later that day visited Freemasons Hall and was photographed with Coppers in Grand Lodge.

In August 2001, Coppers was featured by Grand Lodge on their website and he was awarded the 'rank' of 'Masonic Hearing Dog of United Grand Lodge'.

The idea of Coppers wearing a coat had been that of John Hamill (UGLE's Director of Special Projects). UGLE enlisted the help of Mary, who was sworn to secrecy and asked to obtain permission from the charity, supply the paper pattern and liaise with the Craft and Regalia Department at Freemasons Hall. John Hamill had the coat designed and arranged for it to be crafted to the template Mary had supplied. When it arrived by post it was a complete surprise for John and Coppers.

In September 2001, Coppers was photographed in full regalia with John in the George Bath Suite at Preston Masonic Hall. The photographs were displayed in Preston Masonic Hall, Freemasons Hall and the Hearing Dogs Centre in Buckinghamshire. Coppers was also featured in the first issue of ‘The West Lancashire Freemason’.

Coppers accompanied John to Provincial Grand Lodge in 2001 when he was promoted to the rank of Past Provincial Deputy Grand Superintendent of Works and again in April 2003 when John was promoted to the rank of Past Provincial Grand Scribe Nehemiah in Provincial Grand Chapter.

Coppers continued to work hard in the home, with his sound work. He was also an ambassador of the Hearing Dogs charity and accompanied John and Mary when she gave many talks about Coppers and the charitable side of Freemasonry. Their talks and PR work have reached a wide cross section of the public in an area of a 100 miles or so radius of Preston and considerably large sums of money have been sent to Hearing Dogs as a result of their work.

In 2004 Coppers was given an award for working over and above the call of duty. He alerted John when Mary needed help one night as she had collapsed and thus saved her life. He gradually worked for both John and Mary when Mary developed mobility and health problems.

The extraordinary and unique Masonic life of Coppers came to an end in July 2008. The end was quick and unexpected. At 13 years old Coppers had refused to retire. John said he was a perfectionist and most professional in all his work. In partnership with John he achieved a great deal for Freemasonry in the wide community portraying the charitable aspect.

In November 2009 a new hearing dog ‘Hayden’ was placed with John. Hayden was a beautiful six years old black Labrador who is very lovable, friendly and always wags his tail when spoken to and praised.

John says Hayden has had a difficult act to follow. As it was impossible to replace Coppers, a dog with a completely different disposition was requested, bearing in mind the role he would be expected to follow.

Hayden like Coppers before him alerts John to the door bell, telephone and wakes him up in the morning when the alarm goes off. Mary say’s the most valuable job he does is to find John wherever he is in the house and tell him Mary wants him!

John says Hayden has different strengths and so he is being allowed to carve out his own role and not emulate Coppers.

In order to mark the Bi-centenary of the Lodge of Unanimity a new Masonic coat was made for Hayden by Denise Croasdale at DMC Regalia in Preston who crafted it personally for him. Hayden is proud to wear it and grows in stature when on parade in the lodge.