Character and sense of duty crowns 50 years

Members of St Michael’s Lodge No 5756, meeting at Park Hall Hotel, Charnock Richard, were delighted to be the host for a very special evening in honour of a well-respected Mason. The lodge was assembled to celebrate with Eric Pilling who has completed 50 years in Craft Masonry and Assistant Provincial Grand Master Robert Wright was delighted to attend specially to pay tribute.

Robert Wright (left) congratulates Eric.

Robert Wright (left) congratulates Eric.

Robert was accompanied by fellow grand officers Tom Norris, Brian Fairhurst and Frank Umbers Ormskirk and Bootle Group Chairman and they were supported by Mark Barton Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies.  Also in attendance were acting Provincial grand officers Paul Hardman, Malcolm Sandywell, Liam Mawdsley, John Doyle and Peter Martin

The business of the lodge being completed, WM Brian Turner was honoured to receive APrGM Robert Wright and on offering him the gavel, which was duly accepted. Brian was more than happy to step aside to allow Robert to take the chair. For his opening remarks, Robert began by saying: “Brethren, it is always a pleasure to have a celebration in any part of our lives. Our memories over the years are punctuated by celebrations; birthdays, marriage, children or anniversaries, indeed many things too numerous to mention. It is a time to share with others. It is therefore very pleasing to see so many brethren here this evening. You are all very welcome and on Eric Pilling’s behalf, I thank you all most sincerely for your support tonight.”

Continuing, Robert said that it was an honour to lead the celebration of 50 years in Freemasonry of a very distinguished brother who has freely given his time and energy to the welfare of his family, to his profession and to Freemasonry. He then asked the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies to place Eric before him, ensuring Eric was sitting comfortably before he began his tribute, saying: “Eric, sit back as we drive through your story of life so far; full of hard work, dedicated service and professionalism.”

Robert informed the brethren that Eric was born in 1927 the year that Boeing Air Transport was founded and George V was on the throne, Sir Malcolm Campbell recorded a land speed record of 174.224 mph and Joe Davis won the first World Snooker Championship, which he carried on to win every year until 1940. Eric also shares the year of his birth with many famous and successful entertainers, Val Doonican, Sidney Poitier, Roger Moore, Cleo Laine, June Brown and the incomparable Ken Dodd.

Eric grew up in Bacup, Lancashire and his father worked as a truck driver for Baxters Brewery, his mother was a housewife; Eric had two older brothers and an older sister. Eric’s education started at Sharneyford School Todmorden Road in Bacup and he left school at the age of 14 holding several jobs until he was 18 when he started driving for Billy Holden General Haulage. That job took him around the country and he developed his driving skills and learnt his craft well enough for it to feature throughout his future career.

Regarding National Service, Robert said: “You were called up in 1948 and joined the RAF training at Warrington. You took and passed the criteria to join the medical branch but in typical Armed Forces fashion they sent you to the equipment branch. Mostly in Lincolnshire, you were involved in disposing of disarmed ordinance Regarding National Service, Robert said: “You were called up in 1948 and joined the RAF training at which had been stockpiled for use in the war but no longer needed. It was an opportunity to further develop your skills and continue your love of driving. You ended your four years as Aircraftman 1st Class. I believe the RAF slang for that rank was ‘erks’!! The origin seems to be from the word –  Jerk.”

Moving on, Robert said Eric left the service in 1952 and went back to work in general haulage jobs until there opened up an opportunity of joining the Lancashire Police which he took. Eric started patrolling the beat around Rawtenstall and then moved to traffic as he was already an experienced driver. The next 30 years of service was full of notable achievements as senior driving instructor for Lancashire Police, Eric was the inspector responsible for 28 driving instructors at the police headquarters in Hutton.

Stephen Pilling proudly congratulates his father.

Stephen Pilling proudly congratulates his father.

He was part of the royal protection team trained in protection driving for whenever royalty visited Lancashire. He obviously made a huge impression with his skill, expertise and competence. Princess Anne always asked for Inspector Pilling as her driver. Eric trained drivers from The West Indies, Saudi Arabia and Singapore all of whom needed to learn his skills to protect their own distinguished families. This took him to those countries on many occasions. In 1980, he won the Police Vauxhall Trophy – winning the Vintage Car Rally from Manchester to Blackpool in a 1920’s police Bentley.

Eric was awarded the Long Service Medal by the Chief Constable for distinguished service. Robert then mentioned other highlights of his career showing strength of character and a sense of duty which characterised Eric’s career and why he became renowned as the Senior Inspector Driving Instructor of Lancashire Police.

Robert then asked Eric a series of questions to which each time his reply was ‘Yes.’ The questions were as follows. 1) Were you responsible for booking for speeding a certain Harry Pilling, your own father? 2)  Were you responsible for sending out of a course instruction lesson, for being improperly dressed, a certain Stephen Pilling, your own son? 3) Do you remember testing a certain Philip Harry Gunning Deputy PrGM?  Because he certainly remembers how nervous he was under your instruction and you will be relieved to know that you gave him a pass. This had the brethren in tucks of laughter. Robert added that having served 30 years Eric retired with distinction in the late 1980’s.

Moving on to matters of the heart Robert informed the brethren that Eric met the future Mrs Pilling, Marion, at a party in Bacup.  They were married in 1949, and enjoyed nearly 40 years together before Marion sadly passed away at an early age of only 60 years old. Eric has a son Stephen who was present on the evening; and a granddaughter, Mariane. Eric’s hobbies and past times have included football, cricket, golf, darts and playing a classic organ.

In Masonry Robert said to Eric: “You were initiated into St Michael’s Lodge on 2 May 1967 – so we are exactly on the day of your 50th celebration. Don’t you love great planning? You were WM in 1983 then installed your own son into the chair in 2002. You were WM again in 2003 following Stephen into the chair. You were appointed to Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon, promoted to Past Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works and then further promoted in 2007 to the very high rank you now hold of Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden. You have served the lodge as ADC and DC for many years and much of the traditions and quality of the lodge ritual is a testimony to your hard work. You were a founder member of Red Rose of Lancaster Lodge No 9640. You were exalted in Hesketh Chapter No 986, joined Provincial Grand Stewards’ Chapter of West Lancashire No 8516 and Loyal Todmorden Chapter No 219 in East Lancashire. You are a founder member of St Michael’s Chapter No 5756 and were first principal in 1991. You were honoured in Provincial Grand Chapter to be appointed Acting Provincial Grand Sword Bearer and were subsequently promoted to the very high rank you now hold as PPrGSN. You have certainly committed to and enjoyed your involvement with Freemasonry over the years and we are all here to also recognise that and to celebrate your achievement of being a brother amongst us now for an amazing 50 years.”

Pictured from left to right, are: Peter Martin, Malcolm Sandywell, Tom Norris, Robert Wright, Eric Pilling, Paul Hardman, Liam Mawdsley, John Doyle and Mark Barton.

Pictured from left to right, are: Peter Martin, Malcolm Sandywell, Tom Norris, Robert Wright, Eric Pilling, Paul Hardman, Liam Mawdsley, John Doyle and Mark Barton.

Robert then invited Frank Umbers to read out the certificate from the Provincial Grand Master which Robert subsequently presented to Eric, saying: “Eric Pilling PPrJGW of the Province of West Lancashire. You have set an example to us all in your life, a life full of hard work, honourable service, commitment to family, success in your career and dedication to Freemasonry. It gives me great pleasure to present to you this certificate recording your achievement of 50 years in Freemasonry and to wish you on behalf of all the brethren here the best of health to enjoy many more years in our company.”

Robert invited Eric to retire with him after the first rising and they joined together in saluting the WM as they left the lodge, to enjoy a fine festive board and continue the celebrations.

Story and photographs by Barry Hewitt