Servant of the community

Educated at the Royal Masonic School for Boys, George Penn became a regimental captain, much-loved country doctor, tireless local campaigner and committed lodge member. His son, Roger Penn, considers how Freemasonry complemented his father’s unique life

‘Dr Penn, why do you like stitching so much?’ asked Samantha Rosie of the BBC while filming the family practitioner as he carried out a routine operation at his country surgery in Whitland, south-west Wales. Dolycwrt surgery is where Dr George Penn served his patients dutifully and lovingly for forty-two years. He had no wish to retire until it became necessary the day before his seventieth birthday in 1997. By then he had led the people of his community in a successful victory campaign to keep open his beloved practice at a time when purpose-built health centres were appearing nationwide. 

Rosie and her team were capturing a precious moment in the history of the one-hundred-year-old surgery before turning her footage into an award-winning documentary. She was also giving George the retirement send-off he richly deserved, not only for the excellence of his patient care but also for devoting his life to the needs of others. 

Unmistakably identified by his fleet of Morris Minor cars, George served all manner of local committees for the good of the parish council, rugby club, town hall, carnival events, and was even chairman of the local Farmers’ Union of Wales. But none of these non-medical pursuits compared with his resolute crusade in keeping rural railways running during a twenty-year term following the network cutbacks of the early 1960s. Dr Malcolm Holding, a partner at Dolycwrt, says of his former colleague: ‘He tried to fit so many things into one day. He was on call from all sorts of places – and, if he had a few minutes, he’d be dipping into his masonic book to read a few more lines. He was heavily involved in so many committees. I’m sure George attended more meetings per week than there were nights in the week.’

There is a perfectly good reason for the little masonic book to which Dr Holding refers – and it is best explained in the 1974 Fiftieth Anniversary Booklet of Teifi Lodge, Cardigan: ‘Worshipful Brother Penn is singularly proud of the fact that he is a product of the Royal Masonic School for Boys.’

Life was no picnic for the young George when he was separated from his village friends, aged eight, and relocated to ‘H House’ alongside the stately corridors of the masonic school buildings. Despite the magnificent premises and open green fields, this could be a tough and lonely early existence for boys missing their families. But the Freemasonry movement instilled a sense of leadership and individualism in this young man, and George overcame all ordeals to present himself ready and determined to make a difference with his life. And indeed he did, going on to have a medical career spanning almost fifty years, including national service in Nigeria in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

‘As a servant of the community, George left his mark. And although he was gentle and unassuming in manner and speech, he was strong, resolute and ambitious.’

A spirited education

George’s individualism was recognised early on by his housemaster, Mr Riches. Disregarding school rules one evening, George gave the boys of his house a late party to bid farewell to a friend who was leaving the school. ‘Dear Penn, I am severely annoyed,’ began a letter from Riches, who, while reprimanding him, could not conceal his respect: ‘I treasure you too high, Penn, to quarrel with you unreasonably.’

Stephen Thomas, editor of the Old Masonians Gazette, enjoyed reading about this ‘unique philosophical exchange’, describing George as ‘a pillar of Welsh society’, who delivered ‘the very best his profession brought to Whitland’ during times of significant social change. Brother Jestyn Edwards recalls this commitment to his profession, citing an instance when George travelled up for a lodge meeting in Cardigan – a round trip of about sixty miles. After dining with his lodge, George got up to go. When asked why he was off a bit early, he said: ‘On the way I called with an old lady, who was quite frail. I promised I would pop in on the way home.’

Brother Cecil Williams was impressed by the efforts George made to attend meetings. ‘No one tried harder to put in an appearance. And how can I forget George bringing buckets of coal for the fire. Nothing pleased him more than the sight of flames in our open hearth. George was a one-off.’

As a doctor, husband, father and servant of the community, George left his unique mark. And although he was gentle and unassuming in manner and speech, he was strong, resolute and ambitious. A free spirit and a Freemason, he is best remembered by the words of a devoted patient: ‘There was never anyone like him. He was uniquely different from anyone else; he was a gem of a man.’ 

Beyond the Call of Duty: A Biography of Whitland’s Dr Penn, published by Gomer Press, is available online, in bookshops and direct from the publisher on 01559 363092.

Charity wheelbarrow push to the top of Mount Snowdon in aid of the National Autistic Society

On the 18th August 2012 two brethren of Silurian Lodge No. 471 in the Province of Monmouthshire completed a charity challenge of pushing a wheelbarrow with a bag of cement as its cargo from the Llanberis car park in Snowdonia to the top of Mount Snowdon via the Llanberis path – a total of 5 miles uphill.

The challenge came about after Craig Summerhill, a corporal in the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers Militia, had contacted his friend Dean Crighton, a staff sergeant in the Royal Army Medical Corps, to see if he had some up-to-date maps of the Llanberis area for a sponsored walk to the top of Snowdon, all in aid of the National Autistic Society.

In Craig's absence Dean set up the Facebook group Craig Summerhill's charity wheelbarrow up Snowdon!. It was agreed that this challenge would go ahead after much friendly banter from the 300 or so fans who had joined the group, so a date was set and the build-up and fundraising began.

Dean raised £1,100 through a JustGiving page, and friends helped to raise a further £241. The usual sponsorship forms were pushed around the Province, and among friends, workmates, colleagues and families, and in no time at all the day had arrived.

They also had support from Sgt Dan Waites, Dan's partner Sabrina, Dean's son Daniel, as well as other friends and fundraisers.

Craig started pushing for the first leg, and they rotated with regular stops for fluid intake and to check the feet of those who weren’t quite so used to this type of terrain. Lunch was taken at the halfway station where they were greeted by well wishers, some of whom threw donations into the barrow.

With lunch over they pushed on. In some areas the terrain was too rough to push the wheelbarrow, so the cement was loaded into a military rucksack and carried. The weather was appalling but they climbed on towards the summit. The time to the top was 2 hours and 50 minutes, a brilliant effort made by all for this worthy cause, and a total of £2,387 was finally raised!

November of 2012 Dean and Craig were delighted to be nominated for an award from Newport City Council for going the extra mile.

British troops in Afghanistan plan to raise funds for the Teddies for Loving Care Appeal

The 30 Hour Endurance Challenge is due to take place on 28th - 29th July 2012 in the Gereshk camp (55m X 30m) in Northern Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The troops which form 'Advisor 30', their call sign matrix (and hence the 30 hour challenge), is headed up by Bro Ally McMillan and they are a multi cap-badged group of soldiers representing the Royal Engineers, Grenadier Guards, Royal Signals, Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME), Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), Intelligence Corps, Rifles, Regular and TA.

Throughout the 30 hour period someone from the call sign will be on the exercise bike and another on the cross trainer, each solider taking different shifts. This may not seem that onerous but it will take place whilst still continuing to maintain the camp routine and all tasking's at the time and in quite an austere setting. Temperatures at this time of year usually average 3 (90f) but can reach 40c (105f).

On the Saturday of the 28th July 2012 there will also be a charity cake sale taking place in the Market Square, Saffron Walden, Essex, UK, to mirror the event taking place in Afghanistan. This will be undertaken by Emma McMillan, Alistair's wife (also serving with the British Forces), and other 'Military Wives' and friends.

The original idea came from Staff Sergeant Alistair 'Mac' McMillan a bomb disposal officer based at the Wimbish Barracks, Saffron Walden, Essex UK. He felt that whilst in Afghanistan he should continue to help others back in the UK. The event is to raise money and awareness for the TLC Appeal who provides teddies or soft toys to A&E units for the medical staff to give, at their discretion, to children who are in severe distress, where the staff feel that a teddy to cuddle will help alleviate that distress, that will assist them in their urgent work.

Bro. Ally 'Mac' McMillan has ties with the charity both through masonic friends and a personal experience when his son was admitted to hospital at a young age. He wanted to give something back and raise awareness of the Charity itself. Alistair is a Scottish Mason who bacame a joining member of Walden Lodge No 1280 to enable him to continue with his masonry whilst away from his own Scottish Constitution. He is presently the Junior Warden of Walden Lodge and has helped raise large sums of money for the local Injured Soldiers Fund.

If you would like to sponsor 'Advisor 30' during this challenge, you can either download an information flyer or download a sponsorship form.  If you have any questions please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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