9 June 2010
A eulogy to Lord Cornwallis by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
The death on 6 March of Lord Cornwallis breaks a chain of more than one hundred years of continuous distinguished service to Freemasonry by the Cornwallis family. The family also have truly been Kentish Men, or do I mean Men of Kent, probably both!
Fiennes Neil Wykeham, 3rd Baron Cornwallis was born in 1921, educated at Eton and served in the Coldstream Guards during the Second World War.
As a Farmer of extensive orchards he served on major committees in the House of Lords and the European Commission protecting the interests of fruit growers and small businesses in general, for which he received his OBE. He loved the land, in particular the orchards as well as woodland generally.
He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Kent in 1976.
He was initiated in Douglas Lodge No. 1725, in Maidstone in 1954 and was Provincial Senior Grand Warden of Kent in 1962 and Senior Grand Warden in 1963. It was no surprise that his interest in charity took him to the former Royal Masonic Institution for Boys, of which he was Chairman 1966 – 1972.
In 1971 he was appointed Assistant Grand Master. Shortly after his appointment, the Bagnall Committee was set up to make a fundamental review of Masonic Charity. On its report being accepted he was asked by the Grand Master to chair the Grand Master’s Committee to implement the major changes recommended by the Bagnall Committee which resulted in the reorganisation of the Charities into their present form, no mean feat. Whilst we are again looking at some reorganisation, the solid basis formed by that Committee has stood the test of time and served Freemasonry well.
In 1976 he became Deputy Grand Master and Second Grand Principal and in 1982 succeeded the late Lord Cadogan as Pro Grand Master and Pro First Grand Principal, serving for ten years.
His period as Pro Grand Master was not an easy one. Public perceptions of the Craft, political interference, major enquiries into the compatibility of Freemasonry and Christianity by both the Methodist and Anglican Churches and the problems of the former Royal Masonic Hospital took up a great deal of his time. Indeed this latter point tried his patience enormously and he was very distressed when the Life Governors of the Hospital voted against the recommendations of the Hospital’s Board of Management in 1986.
It was during his tenure as Pro Grand Master that the policy of openness really commenced and he gave tremendous support to it, even though it was not universally popular at that time. During his later years he was very proud to see the results paying dividends.
After his retirement in 1991 he continued to serve on the Grand Master’s Council and his experience and wise counsel were much appreciated by his successors. Indeed, when I was appointed Deputy Grand Master, he summoned me and told me in no uncertain terms what he would expect of me, if he were still Pro Grand Master.