Unique and special occasions deserve unique and special people to take part, none more so than a celebration of a brother’s 60 years in Freemasonry. The ceremony to celebrate George Coulter’s special day certainly ticked all of the boxes. Semper Fidelis Lodge No 4428, having already celebrated a 50th anniversary and the installation of a new master, were on their metal to give George a stunning diamond jubilee.
The lodge was pleased to receive the Assistant Provincial Grand Master, David Winder, accompanied by Steven Reid Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master, along with several acting Provincial grand officers and distinguished brethren. Having welcomed David Winder into the lodge, the master offered him the gavel and the Assistant Provincial Grand Master assumed the chair.
In his introductory comments David said that one of his great privileges was to preside over 60th celebrations, at which he turned to George and said, ‘Goodness me George – what an achievement! 60 years!’ David proceeded to give a flavour of what had happened in 1955, the year in which George was initiated into Farmers Lodge No 1000 in the Irish Constitution. Some of the events at that time were Marilyn Monroe marriage to Joe DiMaggio, the first 12-inch TV screen, Bill Haley was ‘rockin’ around the clock’ with his Comets, and petrol cost seven and a half pence a gallon. Following this short introduction, Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Malcolm Bell was instructed to place the celebrant in the centre of the lodge and David proceeded to give a résumé of George’s life.
George was born on 7 October 1933 at Skreenhouse Farm, County Sligo. His father, George Albert Coulter, had served in the Royal Artillery during the First World War. He returned from Europe to be ostracised for having taken part in the war, as Ireland was in turmoil following the Irish uprising of 1916. George’s mother Alison Mary Coulter was also from a farming background but both parents struggled to make ends meet in a depressed dairy market. Looking to the future, the farm was sold and the family moved to the Castle Coole Estate at Enniskillen across the border in Northern Ireland.
This new job came with a two bedroomed house but the property was very dilapidated, there being no electricity or water. The latter was obtained by a half-mile walk to a spring well and, when collected, was retained in barrels for washing, as economies had to be achieved in any way possible.
George’s schooling was, in his own words, ‘a disaster.’ It involved several schools, with anything up to an eight mile walk either way. Despite having passed his 11 plus exam, grammar school was out of the question. His brother and sister were already at work and he had to join them. His first job, in 1947, was as a shoe salesman but this was short lived. After that he found work in a hardware shop.
George loved scouting which he had taken up in 1944. He later attended a ceremony in London to receive the high accolade of King Scout from Lord Rowallen. He eventually became chairman of his scout group, which rose to become 150 strong. In recognition of this he received the ‘Thanks badge for scouting’ for his services to the organisation.
After some years of poor health caused by tubercular meningitis, entailing lengthy hospitalisation, George’s employment history continued with gradual improvements. In 1955 he became a van driver at the suggestion of his general practitioner who prescribed ‘fresh air.’ The old Bedford CA van certainly provided that. George said that, ‘It was colder in the cab than it was outside!’ In 1960 he became a commercial traveller selling car parts and 1969 was head hunted by Burmah Castrol’s planning department. By 1982 he had risen to company engineering manager for Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the North West of England. This prompted a move in 1983 to his lovely home in Lytham, along with his wife Jeanette, son Christopher and daughter Janice. During a varied and interesting life, George has met some interesting people including Dennis Thatcher, ‘Paddy’ Maine DSO and 3 Bars, Jackie Kyle, Pat Jennings, Billy Bingham, and George Best.
George’s entry into Freemasonry was no less intriguing. His cousin was James Harte, the Masonic Grand Secretary of Ireland. His father was a member of Harlech Lodge No 165, into which Steven Reid’s father was initiated. When cousin James invited George to become a Freemason, he didn’t feel ready but was later initiated into Farmers Lodge No 1000 on 18th February 1955, passed on 11 November 1955 and raised on 9 March 1956. The fees for joining were £7 10s. George was installed as master of Farmers lodge in 1967 by his cousin James and has a solid silver master’s jewel with certificate. This is a prized possession for George.
Shortly after, he had the privilege of attending the installation of the Earl of Donoughmore at Freemason’s Hall, Dublin. He remained active in Farmers lodge and became social secretary organising events that regularly raised sums in excess of £700. In recognition he was honoured in 1968 with the chairmanship of the Masonic Boys School in Dublin and the Clonskeagh Girl’s School at Balls Bridge. Once he had settled in Lytham he met many local Masons and particularly appreciated the welcome afforded by Roger Perry and Bill Hembrow. Then, following the passing of his wife, Jeanette, he particularly appreciated the support of those brethren and Tony Hale, Steven Reid and Rev Godfrey Hirst to name but a few.
Following this summary, Ian Ward, Chairman of the South Fylde Group of lodges, read the 60th Anniversary Certificate issued by the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. This completed, the Assistant Provincial Grand Master presented the certificate and congratulated George on having survived such a trying early life to fulfil all of his obligations. This was met by enthusiastic applause, which was repeated after George had delivered a short but very thoughtful response.
A demonstration of the opening of an Irish lodge followed, led by Steven Reid and assisted by the lodge officers. This was received with warm applause by all present. The master then concluded the business and Semper Fidelis lodge was closed. A fine five-course banquet followed in the Semper Fidelis tradition of hospitality.
Proposing the toast to the celebrant, Steven Reid said that he was ‘astonished, inspired and humbled’ by the story of George’s life, adding that George had emerged from the hard graft of a tough farming life to lead by example in everything that he did. In response, George said that he was, ‘overwhelmed by the occasion.’ He thanked David Winder for the time and effort put into assembling his story and reiterated some of the most salient points. He sat down to rousing applause by an audience who were on their feet to a man.
The evening was closed in traditional manner by guest tyler Ken Turner and all present retired with that feeling of warm satisfaction that only attendance at a great event can instil.