The brethren of Runic Lodge No 6019 and the friends of John Heaton gathered together at Morecambe Masonic Hall to celebrate John’s 50 years in Freemasonry. The celebrations were led by Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger, accompanied by Lancaster and District Group Chairman Jim Wilson and grand officers Tom Holroyd, Peter Mason, Philip Gardner, Keith Kemp and Christopher Butterfield. Also in attendance were group vice chairman and group secretary Neil McGill and Scott Devine respectively, together with acting Provincial grand officers David Cole, Stewart Aimson, Philip Burrow and Keith Halligan, all magnificently guided by the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald.
Master of the lodge Terry Nealons opened the proceedings, but before continuing he surprised many in the lodge room, especially John Heaton, by asking him to take the gavel and to open the lodge, so that he may welcome the principle guest and his attending officers himself. To say the least, John was taken aback, but nevertheless accepted and continued with the meeting. Once the necessary business of the lodge had been completed, the PrDGDC entered the lodge and announced that APrGM David Grainger stood without and demanded admission. On entering the lodge, David was greeted by John who said: “We are delighted to have you here this evening, the WM has kindly offered me the chance to occupy the chair and to welcome you.” John then offered the gavel to David. On this occasion it was gratefully accepted, but not before David quipped: “Normally I cannot wait to give the gavel back, but given the special circumstances, I will retain it.” On assuming the master’s chair, David addressed his audience by noting: “It was not so many years ago that it was unusual to celebrate more than two or three golden jubilees in any one year, but this year within the Lancaster and District and Furness Groups we are celebrating 15 of them.” David liked to put it down to the fact our celebrants have led a good life, kept themselves healthy, are active and above all been privileged to live in this beautiful part of the world. For David the celebrant was a shining example of all those aforementioned criteria.
David then asked Barry to place the celebrant before him and once John was comfortably seated, embarked on an engaging account of John’s life history.
In his narrative, David looked back in time to the year 1940, the year John was born, a very important year in history for a number of reasons. Great Britain stood alone and the war was not going well. It was the year of Dunkirk, the start of the Blitz, the Battle of Britain started in the skies over southern England and Coventry suffered a catastrophic air raid. However, it was not all gloom and doom, for ladies were delighted when nylon stockings went on sale and Walt Disney released Pinocchio and Fantasia. In the year of John’s birth Tom Jones, Jack Nicklaus, John Lennon and Ringo Starr were also born.
John was born in October 1940 at Poulton Square, Morecambe and attended his early schooling at Lancaster Road Primary School, also in Morecambe. In 1948 the family moved to Sheffield for business reasons and John continued his education at Hunters Bar Primary School, followed by Oakwood Prep School and High Storr Grammar School. In 1955 the family moved to Waddington, near Clitheroe, meaning another change of school, this time at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School. Whilst living in Waddington, John was a member of the local church named St Helen’s. However, John really wanted to sing at St Mary’s in Clitheroe as this would allow him to start organ lessons with Charles Myers, the church organist at St Mary’s and also the music master at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School. The vicar of St Helen’s said he would allow John to transfer provided he learnt to ring the bells at St Helen’s. This he did and thereafter John would ring the bells at St Helen’s, then jump on his Vespa scooter and race over to St Mary’s to sing in the choir and have organ lessons.
In 1959 John left school and went to Bretton Hall Training College for Teachers of Music, Art and Drama. John’s first appointment as a music teacher was in 1961 at Ravensthorpe Secondary School at Dewsbury in Yorkshire. John left this post in 1966 and took a position as head of music at Balmoral Road Secondary School, later to become Heysham High School. John remained at the school until his retirement in 1994.
John’s music qualifications are numerous and include, Licentiate of London College (organ), Associate of Trinity College of Music London (organ), Associate of London College of Music (piano). John also has a Certificate in Education from Leeds University.
It was while teaching at Balmoral Road Secondary School in 1969, that John met his future wife Marian, who was studying for her Post Graduate Certificate in Education. In August 1970 they were married and have been blessed with a son and a daughter, as well as two grandchildren.
Serving the community has been part of John’s ethos throughout his life. John was organist at the Church of Ascension in Torrisholme for three years before moving to become choirmaster and organist at St John the Devine in Sandylands in 1972, a post he has held for 45 years. Johns sense of civic duty is further exemplified by the fact he was a magistrate on the Lancaster Bench from 1997 – 2010.
John’s Masonic journey began 50 years ago when he was initiated in to Runic Lodge and it was at this point that the secretary was asked to read the minutes from that meeting. John went through various offices in the lodge before becoming its WM in 1983 and then again in 1994. John was ADC between 1986 – 1991, followed by the position of DC, which he has held off and on over the years. John is in fact the current DC, a position he has held since 2012. Given John’s musical talents he has also been the lodge organist many times.
In Provincial Grand Lodge, John was appointed Provincial Grand Steward in 1992, ultimately being awarded the very high rank of Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in 2003. He is a member of Rowley Chapter No 1051, becoming its first principal in 1992, as well as a being a member of both Heysham Chapter No 4108 and Vale Chapter No 5256. In Provincial Grand Chapter he was promoted to the high rank of Past Provincial Grand Scribe Nehemiah in 2006. John is also in other Masonic Orders, holding high ranks in each and every one, a Masonic cv to be proud of.
David completed his address by formally conveying the congratulations of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison before asking Jim Wilson to read the commemorative certificate that the PrGM had caused to be issued. On receiving the scroll from David, John expressed his gratitude for this very king gesture, adding: “When I left home my wife said make sure you enjoy it, she also said it has been a heck of a 50 years.”
After returning the gavel to the WM, it was Terry’s turn to add a few words by saying: “John has been an example to me in Freemasonry and someone I have always looked to as a fine Mason.”
At a well-attended festive board, David Grainger in response to the toast to his health, thanked Chris Larder, the lodge secretary, for all his hard work behind the scenes, the acting Provincial grand officers for their company and the group publicity officer for his work throughout the year. Special mention was also made of both the lodge ADC David Tattersall and the PrDGDC Barry Fitzgerald for their efforts over the course of the evening.
The toast to John’s health was proposed by David Tattersall, who commenced his speech by saying: “This evening is a very special night, for not only is it 50 years since John’s health was toasted as an initiate, but on the same evening 26 years ago it was John who was proposing my health as a new initiate.” It was John, David said, that was instrumental in him joining Freemasonry and completed his speech by saying: “John has become a very good friend of mine.” At this juncture, David presented John with a number of gifts on behalf of the members of the lodge, which included a pocket watch, a lapel badge and a lovely bunch of flowers for John’s wife.
David then invited Fred Fox to sing a fitting song for the evening named ‘Friend O’Mine’ by Fred Weatherly, a prominent Mason and a song full of Masonic innuendos.
In his reply, John reminisced about how he entered Freemasonry and how it had changed since he had joined, before thanking the members of Runic Lodge for their gifts and also his wife, for he could not have achieved anything without her support.
To conclude, John told his audience there were three things he got from Masonry; enjoyment (self-explanatory), satisfaction (learning ritual) and expectation (expect nothing and if you get nothing you will not be disappointed).
Article and photographs by Paul Thompson.