Chief Olorogun is a District Grand Master to remember. He ascends the stairway of the Masonic Hall in Broad Street, Lagos, with the stern determination of a man who will not stand for any nonsense. But as he approaches, you notice sparkling eyes, you see the curl at the corner of his mouth as his face breaks into his trademark smile and his hand reaches out to greet you. His greeting is a cry of joy that, it seems, will be heard all across this noisy city. The District Grand Master is not a man you can ignore.
Appointed in 2008, Moses Taiga took charge of a district of over thirty lodges, in a country of 923,000 sq. km., more than four times the size of the British Isles, with a population in excess of 123 million. The ethnic diversity in this rich and colourful country makes a social and ethnic patchwork which is as bewildering as it is dazzling.
‘When you took over as District Grand Master,’ I asked, ‘what did you regard as your most urgent task?’
‘Strangely enough, it was how do I improve the District’s standing with Great Queen Street. Communications between the District and Grand Lodge were not as good as they should have been. Some in District Grand Lodge were ignoring a lot of correspondence, annual returns and so forth, so we had to put that right. I realised that if we didn’t cement our relationship with Grand Lodge then the District would not advance.
‘I was very pleased this April when we had the District Grand Masters’ meeting with the Pro Grand Master. I had been rather vocal on two points – the churches and our neighbours. He said to me, “you were a bit tough there!” But I think my primary objective, to improve the image of the District Grand Lodge in the eyes of Grand Lodge has been achieved, and it has been achieved by making the lodges themselves more responsive.’
‘So, you’ve been District Grand Master now for two years. Are you beginning to feel easy in the job now?’
‘No, there’s nothing easy about the job, because there are new challenges every day. We have thirty-two lodges, some of them very successful, some of them not so successful. Some lodges have an inherent weakness: in Jos for example, the plateau region, where most of the Freemasons there have moved from this area. This is a political crisis. The Berom Christians and the Hausas are fighting. All the members of our lodges in Jos had to leave Jos. This is where St. Georges Lodge, No. 3065, in Lagos has done well by being mixed: Nigerian, Indigene, Lebanese, White, they are all members. Some lodges had a policy of expats only and they died as a result.
‘Looking at the global position, our membership compared with ten years ago is up by about 10%. Much of this we have achieved by keeping a more watchful eye on the way the lodges are recruiting members. You asked me what was the most important thing when I was made District Grand Master: at this point in time we English Freemasons have to know who we are because the Scottish and Irish District Grand Lodges have decided to found, April next year, a Grand Lodge of Nigeria. They wanted us to join them but I said no. We were not tempted, because in our view, English masonry is more disciplined – we don’t have so many of what I would call commercial masons.’
‘Are you afraid of losing members to the new Grand Lodge?’ ‘It’s bound to happen. And to counter it, I can offer them an organised masonic career on English masonic principles. When I visit lodges in England, I find that Masonry is altogether different. The English lodges take more care, more care of their brethren and families, of their history, and so do we in the District here.’
‘If you look at the most successful lodges in your District, St. Georges Lodge, Nigeria Lodge, No. 3773, what is the chief element of success?’
‘Dedication. And commitment to togetherness. In the best lodges, when they gather for a meeting, they will tell you, this man is ill. We will go and look after him. That togetherness is what I want to bring.
‘Nigeria is a very complex country. It’s a country full of contradictions, a country full of conflicts, a country full of opposites, a country full of unanswered questions. The politics do not sit easily with Freemasonry, and that is the issue I want to address. During the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida the military condemned Freemasonry and declared it illegal. The goverment are leaving us alone at the moment, but I want us to have a proper dialogue with them. And that is why I am trying to attract members of the National Assembly, where we currently have about ten members. That’s not enough. We want about fifty members. My ambition is that the President of the day knows who we are.’
‘Let me ask you this – the accusation is often made that Freemasonry is nothing but a social and dining club, but there is an increasing number who say no, it is not only a route to moral improvement but also a spiritual pursuit. How do you stand towards that?’
‘I say that Freemasonry can make a perfect man. We should be working towards perfection. That’s what it is about. We see some who join – I’m sorry to be direct – in order to gain power. They think that it imparts some mystical power. There are those who misinterpret the words “by virtue of the power in me vested”. There are those who say, I’ve been in the organisation two or three years, and I haven’t got any power – I’m not coming again. That’s why it’s important to show them an interest in Freemasonry on a spiritual level.
‘The other thing which I’m also trying to change is the way everybody wants to be Master of the lodge. The everyday practice of Freemasonry is not enough for some – they want promotion to Master and beyond. People should have interests in Freemasonry; an interest in what they are doing, and the enjoyment of doing it. Being a Master implies being master of yourself.’
In a 1903 ruby-red Cadillac I am bumping down a banked lawn in the grounds of Larry Riches’ Victorian manor house in Lincolnshire. Larry sits beside me. There is just enough room for the two of us on the leather-upholstered bucket seat. Larry turns off to drive up a straight tree-lined avenue. He shifts from the slow gear to the fast, the ‘putt-putt-putt-putt’ of the veteran engine changes to a much quieter, slower rhythm, the whine of the transmission moves up a note and we shoot off at something like thirty miles an hour. It seems twice the speed, a terrifying ride as trees and bushes dash past on either side.
Larry is a founder and long-serving charity steward of Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413 (EC), meeting in Estoril, Portugal, his second home. His whole life, it seems, revolves around veteran, vintage and classic cars. Among them all, he owns four Model T Fords, and last year he drove from New York to Seattle in a 1923 model, a ‘Tin Lizzie’, a distance of 4,680 miles, an epic journey that took him four weeks. When we meet, he has just returned from another journey with a friend, which started in Joplin, Missouri, and ended in Richmond, Virginia. ‘I’ve always liked a challenge,’ says Larry. ‘People often say to me, what happens when you’ve run out of mountains to climb? But a Model T. It is an icon; there’s a sound on a Model T that sounds like no other car. You’re going along, and it’s ‘ch-ch-ch-ch-ch’, a nice peaceful sound and you’re on a country road all by yourself.’
The Captain’s Log
Larry’s log speaks for itself: ‘We set off from Joplin in light rain. Today we crossed three fords, passing through the towns of Saginaw and Boaz (!) stopped for lunch at a nice mom-and-pop highway house café for a bowl of soup that was about a gallon! We ambled along at a steady thirty-five to forty mph and the car ran sweet as ever.’ Log 2: ‘A very nice ride covering another easy 200 miles before crossing the Mississippi by ferry; the Mississippi really is huge! Kentucky, and then into Tennessee: we ran all the day with the top down because the car’s much quicker, and also you’ve got a 360-degree panorama. A lot of interesting wild birds – blue jays, snipe, eagles and many water birds. In Tennessee we passed through Paris; saw their own 200 foot-high Eiffel Tower.’ Log 3: ‘The box that has sat on the running boards carrying our spare petrol, water, oil etc. finally started to break up, so we bought an old suitcase at a thrift store for $10.00. Today we arrived safely in Nashville; exhaust needed tightening up. Another ferry crossing of the Tennessee River; we had lunch in a 1954 diner, which was cute and the ladies loved my English accent. We did well to avoid almost all the big highways again; it’s scary with the trucks and the little Model T.’ Log 4: ‘The weather front arriving tomorrow means we have to move the car another 170 miles east to Athens, Tennessee. Today we passed through the mountains of eastern Tennessee, with wonderful views, some long five to tenmile climbs on switchback roads through huge forests. We followed parts of the Trail of Tears; this took its name from when the United States government moved the Cherokee Indians from their home in North Carolina in 1838, many of them dying from illness and being forced to walk hundreds of miles to a new homeland.’ Log 5: ‘Leaving Athens with moderate rain, flash flood warnings on television and in the newspapers; twelve deaths in the floods made us apprehensive of the day ahead. We had lunch at the Tannery Cafe in Greeneville, Tennessee, the birth town of Andrew Johnson, a past President of the United States. We eventually ended up in Boone, North Carolina, after a long drive up and over the Great Smoky Mountains; some of the hairpin bends were very hard on car and driver! The car ran much slower. ‘We are now around 360 miles from our final destination, Richmond. Although the car runs well, I am more worried about the possibility of a major mechanical issue and panic at every new noise!’ Log 6: ‘Today we really “drove the dream”, the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway; this special road was built in the 1930s and stretches from North Carolina to Virginia for around 496 miles. It was built during the Great Depression to create work and is now a national monument. We drove it for 170 miles, one of the world’s great scenic drives, in one of the icons of Automobile history, a Ford Model T! We had some very long inclines, with our speed being as low as eight mph at times. ‘Great views, landscapes, wild flowers, butterflies, and some wonderful people along the route, topping out at four thousand feet above sea level in places. We stopped for lunch at Fancy Gap, where there was an old wedding chapel across the street; the waitress explained that the county line once ran down the centre of the road, and the restaurant was in a “dry” county; the owner sold booze at the chapel and then they celebrated at the restaurant afterwards.’ Log 7: ‘We arrived safely in Richmond this afternoon: we have now covered a total of 1,321 miles without any problems, not bad for our eighty-seven year old Ford Model T! We changed the oil yesterday in Roanoke, Virginia, and the lube-bay did not charge us anything. People have been very generous on the trip. ‘We took the shortest possible route to Richmond, which involved several graded roads through huge woodlands. We stopped for coffee in Appomattox where the American Civil War peace treaty was signed in 1865. ‘It has been a great trip, the company, the people we met en route, the weather – we were lucky to miss the storms in Nashville. Our thanks go to all those who extended friendship and help but we have proved just how reliable these cars are if driven with respect and without pushing them beyond the limits set by Henry Ford. ‘So maybe the final thank you should be to Henry Ford for designing such a great little car!’
The traffic sweeps up Great Queen Street in London, past the grandiose frontage of Freemasons’ Hall. Freemasons dodge in and out of cafés and bars, and among them a tall, sandy-haired, smiling figure weaves his way between the cars to meet me in front of the main doors; this is Russell Race, Metropolitan Grand Master for London. It must be said that since Metropolitan Grand Lodge offices were moved from the opposite side of the street into Freemasons’ Hall itself, there’s been much less crossing the road.
Until 2003 London Freemasons were administered by the Grand Secretary’s office. During that year Grand Lodge voted to set up a London unit, to be self-governing on the pattern of Provincial and District Grand Lodges: Russell Race was appointed Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master and, in 2009, Metropolitan Grand Master.
‘When the idea of Metropolitan Grand Lodge was first mooted, there was opposition wasn’t there?’ I asked.
‘One objection was the feeling that London honours were decided by the Grand Master and by making London a separate organisation you were lowering the bar and giving that decision to a lower authority. In reality it never was the Grand Master – it was a section within the Grand Secretary’s department.
‘The other fear was that London would become “provincialised”. Many members were aware that Provincial Grand Masters give a diktat and it tends to be followed. So some were fearful that London would go down that route, controlling particularly what lodges did with their charity money.
‘The third concern was that there would be a bigger bureaucracy: it would increase their subscriptions, other than increases that would have happened anyway. In practice, the staff of Metropolitan Grand Lodge has grown slightly, though much of that growth has come through volunteers.’
‘Were the fears of the detractors in any sense realised?’
‘No. Dues have gone up, but they have gone up countrywide. Importantly, London masons now have a better focus for charitable giving. There are three main strands for the Metropolitan Masonic Charity – medical care, charities that help younger people in London, and the elderly.
‘A lot of what we have been doing in London is about breaking down barriers. The move across the road has been very important. The old building didn’t make a good showcase for London Freemasonry and it was not a good working environment. The move has also enabled better contact with members of Grand Lodge. But Grand Lodge recognises our independence and that’s important. London has its own issues, its own problems.’
‘How good are you at publicising Freemasonry?’
‘One of the recruitment areas we are keen on is our young group, the Connaught Club, which caters for young people up to the age of thirty-five. Freemasonry is felt by some to be not elitist, but ageist in terms of dealing with young people. But I think young people who come into a lodge benefit immensely from having other young people around them. The Connaught Club has very lively social events and at least two open events a year at which members are encouraged to bring non-masons along. When they come into Freemasons’ Hall we have a reception in the vestibule with a talk about Freemasonry, a very informal question and answer session then we go into the Grand Temple and show them around. It’s about encouraging our members so that they feel relaxed and easy talking to nonmembers.’
I noted that there is cautious optimism in London regarding the numbers of new initiates: ‘Are these new initiates younger men than before?’
‘Definitely. The average age of intake has dropped quite sharply – a lot of young people are coming in. Some of the school lodges are starting to benefit, there are a number of graduates and undergraduates in the universities’ scheme, and some lodges are now inundated with candidates and are having to farm out second degrees in multiples all over the place, so it’s a good sign.
‘We are initiating something like 1500 per year, which equates more or less to the number of lodges, so you might think that’s fine. But it doesn’t work like that. Those 1500 initiates are concentrated on 800 lodges so there’s quite a discrepancy between those that are thriving, those that are doing alright, and those that are doing less than alright.
‘It’s important to get a lodge to recognise early when it’s not doing too well, rather than putting panic measures in place when it’s late. It’s never too late, but if you’ve got eight or ten members, you’re really on a downward spiral. You’ve almost gone past critical mass. Once a year the lodge committee should have a session on the health of the lodge. It’s not just a question of what are we doing next week. It’s where are we going as a lodge: where do we see our membership going in the next few years; are we getting proper succession in the lodge? Are we aware of certain stewards who say, I’m not going to take my place on the ladder. Are we aware of a junior warden who says I’m not going to go through the chair? Or do we say, let’s park that problem because it’s not a very nice thing to hear. Even lodges which are healthy nominally can go down very quickly, and they start losing members.’
The Brotherhood of Creation
I asked what he regards as the ideals of Freemasonry. ‘Like many other people I regard the charitable expression of Freemasonry as being just that – a charitable expression. It’s a means of demonstrating what’s in here’ – he touches his heart – ‘to start with. The ideals of Freemasonry are humanity, the fatherhood of the Creator, allied very closely and inextricably to the brotherhood of His creation, His offspring. If you just keep it at that very simple level, you suddenly think, why are there divisions across society? We are one of the few organisations – this is very important – that has this interreligious ability to share values between people of very different views. Many organisations have good ideals, good principles and good charitable aims but the charitable aims we have are a natural expression of what we should be doing anyway; it doesn’t specialise us.
‘In a lot of what I do, day to day, in this job, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae. It’s very hard to sit back and say, why do we do this?What we’re trying to do in Metropolitan Grand Lodge is to create environments in which people in their lodges and chapters can focus on the important things. I’ve been to many initiations over the years where it would be very easy to slightly turn off and say, “I’ve seen it all before”. But the only way I can make it work for me is to put myself in the position of that candidate and just share what he is experiencing.
‘So I think we’re setting the framework in which people can go beyond the words of the Craft and think about the more spiritual aspects. I’m very conscious that a lot of our members are in Freemasonry for different reasons. For some of them it’s companionship, meeting their friends, having a good dinner, but every now and again you hope that something from that ceremony suddenly strikes a chord with people. I’m a great believer in the ritual and the sanctity of the ritual does mean a lot to me.’
With Russell Race we have a Metropolitan Grand Master who combines the outer form of Freemasonry with its inner content and thereby manages to make something harmonious of the whole - for the advantage of all his Brethren.
Every lodge in the English Constitution has a tracing board for each of the three degrees. What is their point? Do they actually add anything to our study of masonic symbols and allegories? Would the lessons imparted by each of the three degree ceremonies be any less complete without the tracing boards?
Julian Rees Gives Some Tips for the Keen Aspirant
It has often been said that Freemasons are quite good at recruiting, not so good at retaining, newly-made masons. And it is a fact that most people join Freemasonry without knowing what they are getting into. Should they know more? Could this be part of the reason for any later loss of enthusiasm? Certainly up to now there has not been a comprehensive guide to Freemasonry for the non-Freemason, despite the many good publications which deal with the detail of masonic custom and practice. The scarcity of books written for the non-mason has been due partly to the old idea that Freemasonry should be shrouded in secrecy, that what Freemasons do is for them only to know, that if you wanted to know more, you should find a way of joining.
The Grand Secretary, Robert Morrow, talks to Julian Rees
When you enter the office of the Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, you feel the palpable weight of the history of Freemasonry over nearly three hundred years, and the way in which Grand Secretaries have influenced affairs in that time.
Yet Robert Morrow, in the first few words we exchanged, proved himself to be the most approachable of Grand Secretaries. ‘Where does that easy contact with people stem from?’ I asked.
‘My background was in senior management in banking, a sphere where you learn to see the good in everyone, and to reciprocate their goodwill.’ But then he added an interesting insight into his own thinking. ‘My training at Oxford University, reading latin, greek and ancient history, and therefore my exposure to ancient texts, gave me perhaps an insight into the way the human mind works. Particularly when you read Aristotle, whose Ethics describes the different kinds of person, which gives you the beginnings of an understanding of the human mind.’
Not long after leaving Oxford he went into banking, but not before he had started on his masonic journey. ‘I never knew a time when I wasn’t going to be a Freemason. On the evening of my twenty-first birthday I went across the road and asked my father’s best friend if he would propose me into Freemasonry.’
Robert comes from an impressive masonic pedigree; there are Freemasons on his father’s side going back at least six generations.
‘What was it that you found in Freemasonry?’ I asked.
‘Two things I think. First, it was a whole new cycle of things that one could get involved in and learn about. It wasn’t long before I discovered Quatuor Coronati and started learning. It was a rich seam to mine, and it is a seam I am still mining. I do not believe you can ever get to the end of the journey, and that is what is so wonderful about it. The second thing I think was the social aspect. There I was, twenty-one years old, and the way the lodge took me to its heart and looked after me was the beginning of a very special relationship. I didn’t know what to expect. I spent the first days wondering what was going on.
‘I often say to initiates, if we have done our job properly tonight, you should by now be thoroughly confused, but please don’t worry. The next time you watch a first degree being conferred on a candidate, take part in his ceremony, and think back to when it was being conferred on you. That is something I still do, even after all these years.’ Did he feel that society might be too bound up in materialistic pursuits, and that Freemasonry might be an effective antidote? ‘The answer to that has to be a simple yes. The ‘me-now’ generation is the most avaricious grasper of satisfaction over a feeling that some things are better enjoyed by waiting for them. Freemasonry can be an antidote to this but only, surely, for those who are so inclined.’
‘How would you describe the function of the Grand Secretary?’ ‘Well, he is effectively the Chief Executive of the United Grand Lodge of England. Like any big organisation there has to be somebody who has got day-to-day hands-on responsibility for running it.
As in running any organisation, it would not be possible without the assistance of others, and I am extra lucky to have a team of dedicated people who are absolutely top-flight.’ What about his relationship with the other Rulers? ‘When I give talks to lodges from time to time, I often start with an overview of the hierarchy – what the Rulers do, what the Board of General Purposes does, the Grand Master’s Council and so on, and I say that I am the servant of many masters. A Grand Secretary ought to have in his makeup some view of the future, where he thinks Freemasonry ought to go and how to get it there’.
He explained that the vision of Freemasonry, the richness of what Freemasonry can be in the future, is ‘very much the province of the Pro Grand Master, and without his will in driving forward change in Freemasonry, it would be enormously difficult to have confidence that Freemasonry as we know it is going to survive for another three hundred years. Society has changed more in thirty years than in three hundred, more in three years than in thirty. We have to accept that if society is changing at that rate, Freemasonry must change with it, must adapt, otherwise it will become a dinosaur, and we all know what happened to the dinosaurs. But I don’t want to see Freemasonry changing at a very high speed or changing its essential nature. I don’t want to see it changing its reliance on its past. Change for its own sake is inefficient and ultimately doomed to failure.’
‘Tell me about the relationship of Grand Lodge with foreign jurisdictions,’ I asked. ‘I regard our relationship with other recognised Grand Lodges to be a very important part of my job,’ he said.
‘This area is my own specific responsibility. I think I have been able to build on what my predecessor, Jim Daniel, did. There is a very large masonic family out there, and it is nice to know that we are respected by other Grand Lodges. But we do not have any power outside our own jurisdiction. We are the biggest, and we have acquired a certain “mossy” sense of seniority.’ Is the United Grand Lodge of England in some way a sort of reference point? ‘Without question. I get a huge number of enquiries and requests from other Grand Lodges, ranging from points of protocol to advice on disciplinary issues. But we are not the world’s masonic policemen, nor a masonic mediator. If we can help, it’s important that we do so, but only if we’re asked to do so.’
What did he think about the different roles of national masonic publications?
‘When we started MQ, it was as a vehicle for disseminating Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter news. At the beginning, it had perhaps too much lifestyle content. We have changed that in line with feedback we had. Freemasonry Today too has changed since its launch, and you now have what I consider a very successful magazine. You can cover aspects of Freemasonry that MQ can’t, and I find it fascinating. You have some superb writers, you pick on topics of unusual interest, and you do write on esoteric and symbolic aspects in a way that focuses on specialised masonic interests. Your contributors tend to be more independent of the hierarchy, and that is immensely valuable.’
I asked him to tell me about the present health of Freemasonry. ‘I think we can begin to be quietly confident of the future. It is early days, but we are beginning to see signs of improvement. After the second world war there was a gigantic increase in membership, and of new lodges. With hindsight I suppose we can say it wasn’t the best answer, since membership was never going to be sustainable at that level. I believe that as men came back from the war, they had formed a special bond and they found in Freemasonry a way of continuing that.
‘Kipling said “All ritual is fortifying. Ritual’s a necessity for mankind. The more things are upset, the more they fly to it”. Thank God we haven’t had a major war for sixty years, but that means that continuing source of bonding has fallen away. And the simple fact is that we have too many lodges. We must accept the fact that lodges have to close, there is going to have to be amalgamation and so forth, and we are beginning to see some encouraging trends. It is still very early days, and in some parts of the country numbers are still going down, but in other parts there are encouraging signs of an increase in membership.
‘The policy of engaging in the community again is beginning to pay dividends. The “Freemasonry in the Community Week” was a huge success. The local press gave us good coverage, but I think the national press focuses too much on bad news, not good.’
Why was Grand Lodge’s public relations machine unable to break through that? ‘I think “was” is the operative word. We learned from the experience, and we contemplated doing it again after, say, five years. The Pro Grand Master commented that if we did it again we should call it “The Freemason in the Community”. I think this would give a nice fillip to the idea and would give people a slightly newer direction in which to take the initiative.’
This then is a man who evidently has big ideas for the future, ideas which he tantalisingly doesn’t want to talk about just yet. ‘There are some very interesting and exciting initiatives, which I hope it will be possible to progress,’ he says. ‘We have to keep Freemasonry relevant to what’s going on, without betraying that huge historic debt to the past. I haven’t stopped thinking of things to do.’
Clearly not, and with such an energetic Chief Executive mapping out the future, we can only surmise that Freemasonry can look forward to a very interesting future.
Julian Rees on the Story of Iain Ross Bryce
Iain Ross Bryce, one of the most instantly recognisable figures in English Freemasonry, retired last year after fifteen years as Deputy Grand Master. It is probably fair to say that most Freemasons in England have either met him or heard him speak, but without doubt his lasting legacy to the United Grand Lodge is the way in which he has re-modelled and vitalised the charity system, turning it into a far sleeker, more productive organism than it was.He was born in Bridlington Yorkshire in 1936 of parents who originated from the Argyll area. He went to school locally, afterwards doing articles to become a Chartered Accountant. In 1958, prior to National Service in 1959, he enrolled in the Territorial Army in a Royal Engineers airborne unit ‘so that I wouldn’t have to go in the Pay Corps or RAF admin.’ and qualified as a parachutist. He stayed on for another twenty years in the Territorial Army.
In 1960 he was initiated in Burlington Lodge, No. 3975, in Bridlington. This Lodge, founded in 1919, is distinguished by its founders’ jewel being worn with a black ribbon to commemorate the fallen. He was then only twenty-four years old at a time when his father thought he was far too young, and he became Master of the Lodge at the age of thirty-three in 1969. In the same year he became a partner in his firm of Chartered Accountants. The firm was little more than a small town firm, but in time Iain became a Partner in the huge international accounting firm of Ernst and Young.
Iain had met his future wife, Jan, some years before. They weren’t always close however, and it was only the night before he was commissioned in the army, in 1960, that they became engaged, and married in 1962. His father in law was a Freemason, so there was a great deal of masonic influence on both sides of the family. Jan has had to cope with masonic and military activities throughout their married life. ‘Wives,’ says Iain, ‘have an important part to play in bringing us down to earth.’
A Masonic Career
His rise in Freemasonry began when he was made Master of his mother Lodge at its fiftieth anniversary, and Brigadier Claude Fairweather, Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire North and East Ridings, was present. Years later Iain got a phone call. It was Claude Fairweather. ‘I want you to do a job,’ he said. What is it? Iain asked. ‘I’ll decide,’ was the reply, ‘will you do it?’ As a result, Iain was duly appointed Provincial Senior Grand Warden at the age of forty-one and appointed Deputy Lieutenant in Yorkshire the same year.
From Provincial Senior Grand Warden, he became Assistant Provincial Grand Master, and then Deputy Provincial Grand Master. ‘I had only been Deputy for a quarter of an hour, when the then Provincial Grand Master, the Marquess of Zetland, announced that he wanted to retire, and wanted me to take over.’
Appointed Provincial Grand Master in 1984 he found the Provincial finances in a shambles, so he appointed a working qualified accountant as Treasurer. He introduced ‘open days’ for lodges, against huge opposition. For this to happen, a lot of work had to be done. Many of the lodge buildings were in a terrible state, dirty, with facilities that didn’t work.
Many had to be re-decorated. ‘There wasn’t a shortage of money: it was a shortage of attitude. We had huge opposition from those who said “we’ve never done it”. It was easier to say no than yes. Saying yes meant that somebody had to do it.’
‘At this time,’ he said, ‘I introduced an eight minute limit on after dinner speeches.’ There was a pause. ‘I later wished I had made it four.’ He also introduced Master Masons conferences and the first one was a sell-out – a huge number attended.
The idea for these conferences came when Iain and John Hamill were present at one that had been held in Northern Ireland. ‘I’m going to do that,’ he thought. ‘I was frightfully brash – I was a very young Provincial Grand Master.’
Royal Masonic Hospital
The then Pro Grand Master, Lord Cornwallis, asked him to chair a committee to look into the Masonic Foundation for the Aged and Sick, and to split the Royal Masonic Hospital from the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution. He was given six months to settle it, but achieved it in three. ‘If we don’t get the thing done quickly, we’ll be into the summer, and then nothing will get done,’ he remembers thinking.
On the Masonic Foundation for the Aged and Sick, there had been a lack of balance. Iain decided on a committee of one each from the Hospital and the RMBI plus a few others, and he got the Chairmen of both the RMBI and the Hospital on his side in this decision. After a few weeks, he told the Grand Master what they were doing, and he was very supportive. The Grand Master said, ‘Will you think about what more we can do for the sick?’
The committee concluded, in March 1988, that the RMBI and the Royal Masonic Hospital should each raise its own funds. The Masonic Foundation for the Aged and Sick had to suspend its fund-raising, and the RMBI would have an annual festival. But in order to do more for the sick, Iain, with the then Grand Secretary Michael Higham, set about formalising the haphazard Festival System into a matrix, which now forms the base programme for the Provincial Festivals.
Deputy Grand Master
In April of that year, Lord Cornwallis, then Pro Grand Master, took him on one side and said ‘You’re going to be Deputy Grand Master’. There was no discussion – the decision had been made, and that was that, although the actual appointment was three years away.
Lord Cornwallis was very grateful for what the committee had done. They had been swift, but now in addition they had to decide what could be done for the sick. One problem was that the Hospital was a totally commercial enterprise, with its own Samaritan Fund under its wing. The two had to be separated, but by then the Hospital had appointed independent management consultants, so the commmittee had to stand back and wait to see what happened.
Their conclusions therefore were that the gap between the RMBI and the MTGB had to be filled, that a new Samaritan Fund should be created, the viability of the Hospital should be considered, and the Grand Charity should be asked to review its objectives to help those not supported by the other charities. This second report was thus the embryo of the New Masonic Samaritan Fund, which was founded in 1990.
Iain was appointed Deputy Grand Master in 1991 and later, when Lord Farnham became ill, Iain deputised for him at home and abroad. After the death of Lord Farnham, Lord Northampton became Pro Grand Master. ‘With his appointment,’ he says, ‘we went down a generation – went down ten years.’
Bringing Charities Together
The most tangible result of the second report is bringing all the Charities into Freemasons’ Hall – the administrative costs of the Charities in their present fractured configuration costs several million per year. Iain encouraged the Presidents of the Charities to meet together under his chairmanship. It is a testament to Iain’s skills that they got to know each other better, and when they went back to their council meetings they all knew what the other Charities were doing. Now, for the first time, they share a common responsibility.
But the paramount benefit of the Bryce committees’ reports was the setting up of the New Masonic Samaritan Fund, with the benefits that flowed to those needing medical treatment. The ground for the setting up of the NMSF was laid on the demise of the Royal Masonic Hospital.
Iain was also involved, with the other Rulers in Grand Lodge, in the reorganisation of the Board of General Purposes, reducing its number from sixtyplus to twelve. ‘It was,’ he recalls, ‘a little like turkeys voting for Christmas’ but it has led, under its present Chairman Anthony Wilson, to a leaner, more efficient Board
Freemasonry in his Life
‘I feel very inadequate when trying to explain my personal feelings about Freemasonry.’ It has meant different things to him in each stage of his life, and the meaning behind the words did not at first play a great part. A knowledge of the true secrets of masonry has only come slowly over the years. All the time, without realising it, the experience improved his social skills, awareness of the problems of others and taught him to speak in public. He began to listen to what he was saying and reciting, and absorbed more of the often hidden meanings. This is a common experience.
‘Representing United Grand Lodge of England all over the world has been a privilege, at times a heavy burden.’ He has, he thinks, that great intangible asset of Freemasonry and its life blood that is fraternity and brotherhood. ‘The phrase from the Ancient Charges “the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance” cannot better express one of the meanings of Freemasonry.’
He also strongly believes that Freemasonry is just as relevant today as it always was, especially as it is not a religion but multi-faith. Its relevance is more enhanced as society is becoming more violent and with few moral limitations. It is time, he believes, to engage the minds of academics and the educated to show that Freemasonry does have a purpose and an important part to play in modern society.