The members of the Lodge of Concord No 343 recently celebrated the golden jubilee of lodge member, Richard Gibb, a very special occasion for Richard and an enjoyable event to share with the members.
The proceedings were led by the Assistant Provincial Grand Master, David Winder, accompanied by Deputy Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, Malcolm Bell, the Preston Group Chairman, Steve Bolton and Vice-Chairman, Geoff Saul.
After transacting the normal business of the lodge, David Winder, was formally welcomed into the lodge by the worshipful master, Bob Dickinson, who then invited David to occupy the master’s chair.
David began by saying how delighted he was to be able to visit Richard and spend a morning in his company. The purpose of his visit was to ask all the questions necessary to elicit the hidden gems of the life and times of a Mason about to celebrate 50 years in the Craft. David has known Richard for over 20 years, as they were both in the master’s chair of their respective lodges in season 2000-2001; albeit Richard’s second visit and David’s first. To Richard’s total surprise, prior information enabled David to greet him with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, as Richard quietly celebrated his 91st birthday.
Turning to the evening’s celebration, David set the scene by recounting some of the events of 50 years ago, the swinging 60’s when the Beatles said: ‘All you need is love’, Sandy Shaw had a ‘Puppet on a String’ and North Sea oil was pumped ashore for the first time. Concorde was unveiled, the Saturn V rocket had its first successful test and Clint Eastwood paid for his first spaghetti western with a ‘Fist Full of Dollars’.
David then invited Deputy Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, Malcolm Bell, to escort Richard to a place on the floor of the lodge, asking him to relax and enjoy the evening to the full. The brethren were then treated to a splendid résumé of the happenings in Richard’s life, both in and out of Freemasonry.
He began by informing the brethren of Richard’s entry into the world in 1926, when he was born at Walton in Liverpool. David hastily added this was at home and not in the prison. His initial school days were spent at Arnott Elementary before he went on to pass the entrance examination to Alsop High School, a school that was effectively the local grammar school. Richard interjected, that being a boy’s school it had a severe impact on his introduction to the fairer sex.
Continuing, David turned to the wartime period when, at the outset of war, Richard, as a 13 year old, had been evacuated to Holyhead, billeted with the family of an engine driver who drove the mail train from Holyhead to London. David recalled one occasion when Richard was allowed on the footplate at the controls whilst the engine was taken to the sheds. It was a position, at that time, that was every young boy’s dream. After six months of kind treatment by the family that already had three children of their own and with only propaganda leaflets being dropped on the city, Richard returned home. He arrived just in time for the real bombing offensive to begin. Fortunately, Walton was out of the main target area, but Richard, as a school firewatcher had been nominated to extinguish any incendiary devices that landed. Thankfully, Richard was never put to the task. Richard’s wartime activities continued when, as a member of the scouts, he was nominated for the scouts’ messenger service attached to the civil defence in the Walton area, the idea being that should the telephones fail, the scouts could convey messages by pedal cycle. Fortunately, this only occurred three times during the whole war.
Moving on to other school activities, David referred to Richard’s love of football, playing for the school as outside left. This led to the highlight of his career that, despite being an Everton supporter, he was to play at Anfield, when his school reached the finals of the Under 13’s Shield coming out 4 – 3 winners. Continuing his sporting activities, in the summer time, Richard turned his hand to cricket as an ‘all-rounder’.
David then informed the brethren of Richard’s working life, first as an apprentice fitter at Harland and Wolff on the docks, then onto English Electric working on diesel engine design before moving to Worthington Simpson Ltd working on the design of pumps, compressors and condensing equipment. Academically, Richard achieved ONC, HNC and subsequently became a member if the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. On transfer to the Manchester branch, Richard was tasked with preparing tenders. It was a task that involved regular contact with headquarters and a certain switchboard operator named Janet Judson. Repeated train journeys to head office over 18 months, ostensibly on works business, resulted in Richard and Janet travelling down the aisle together as man and wife before honeymooning in Jersey.
Delving further into Richard’s working life, David referred to fate taking a hand in Richard’s aspirations. When, after informing his boss of his imminent marriage and that he was looking to purchase a property in Manchester, he was advised to buy in Preston and take up the position of the company’s Northern sales representative. As an added incentive, the post would include the provision of a new car. Despite no training, Richard accepted the position and, with the words: “I don’t want any customer complaints,” ringing in his ears, set off for the central sales base of Preston. He then spent the next 24 years visiting a range of customers from BAC to Courtaulds, travelling an average of 30,000 miles per year with a new Vauxhall every two years. Richard confided in David that, during that time, there were no customer complaints to blot his copybook.
Continuing, David mentioned Richard’s time as a Special Constable in Fulwood that led to promotion to section officer and, following the merger of Fulwood with the Preston Division, to becoming Divisional Commandant in charge of special constables. This period also saw the arrival of daughter Jane and son, David; that would ultimately lead to Richard being the proud grandfather of six grandchildren. To maintain close family ties Richard took up sailing as a hobby, becoming a member of Southport Sailing Club. This led David to comment that no wonder Richard had a close family; they were now all in the same boat! Proceeding onwards, David recalled another family favourite hobby, that of camping in Anglesey. Unsurprisingly, this led Richard to a 14 foot GP14 sailing dinghy and membership of Red Wharf Bay Sailing Club. This, coupled with the acquisition of a static caravan, set the scene for many happy weekends sailing on the sea.
Returning to Preston, David recounted Richard’s involvement with the Playhouse Theatre when, attending a ballet school production with his daughter, Richard observed a notice carrying a request for anyone with knowledge of sound and lighting to assist in the Playhouse. Being an engineer and not having experience in either direction, Richard thought, how difficult can this be? The result was a 52 year friendship with Playhouse contact and lodge member, Patrick Bracewell. He became treasurer of the club for 15 years and a member of the board of Preston Playhouse Ltd.
Turning to more sombre items, David mentioned Richard’s development of macular degeneration resulting in severe vision problems; this, coupled with the passing away of his wife Janet after 52 years of marriage came as a double blow. However, Richard said he was appreciative of the support and camaraderie of his many Masonic friends, the busy Masonic meetings and events that had allowed him to move forward and continue to live life to the full.
David then invited lodge secretary, Patrick Bracewell, to read the minutes of the meeting at which Richard was initiated.
Continuing with Richard’s Masonic career, David disclosed that although two of his uncles where members of the Craft, Richard’s introduction to Freemasonry came via one of his cricketing colleagues who, having previously made discrete enquiries, asked Richard if he would be interested in joining Centenary Lodge No 4908. Richard’s reply was: “I never thought about it, but I will give it a go.” As was the case in those days, it would be three years before he was called to the scrutiny meeting that ultimately led to his initiation into the lodge in January 1967. It was a lodge that was very active with over 100 members and famous for its full blown ‘Olde English Nights.’ Moving through all the progressive offices Richard arrived at the master’s chair in 1979 for what proved to be a highly vibrant year. Suitably rested during his period as the immediate past master, Richard was persuaded to take the position of lodge secretary with the retiring secretary uttering the words: “It will only take about half an hour each week.” David reminded everyone, that at that time, everything was hand written with no such thing as a computer being available. Feeling somewhat conned, Richard held the position for 15 years before returning to the chair in 2000–2001, this being the same year as David himself served as master of Ribble Lodge No 4558. Another busy year for Richard visiting lodges, attending numerous ‘Ladies Evenings’ and being involved in the fund-raising activities of that year’s ‘Preston Masters.’ Despite all the social functions and repeated lodge dining, to the annoyance of the other masters, Richard always maintained his trim shape never having to contend with the repeated visits of the infamous ‘belt burglar.’
Richard’s service to the lodge was recognised in 1990 when he was appointed to the rank of Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon, with a promotion to the very high rank of Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in1998.
Progressing, David came to 2003 when, because of falling numbers, Centenary Lodge amalgamated with the Lodge of Concord No 343. Following the change, Richard became the ‘Super Sub’, always willing to step in to any of the lodge positions should a brother not be able to attend.
Concluding his Masonic career, David mentioned Richard’s membership of the Setantia Lodge of Installed Masters No 7755 and his dip into the Royal Arch as a companion in Royal Preston Chapter No 333 from 1969 to 1999.
David then invited the group chairman, Steve Bolton, to read the 50th celebration certificate before formally presenting it to him, bringing with it the congratulations of the Provincial Grand Master, Tony Harrison, as well as his own.
David continued by reminding Richard that, on the day he was made a Mason, he was charged to be respectable in life, useful to mankind and an ornament to the society of which he was that day made a member. He concluded with the words: “Every brother here today is under no doubt that you have fulfilled your obligations on every count and we join in congratulating you on a wonderful achievement, your golden jubilee in Freemasonry.”
This was followed by well-deserved applause from all the brethren present.
With a twinkle in his eye, David thanked Richard for thoughtfully considering his diet by not offering him a cup of tea, coffee, biscuit or even a piece of birthday cake whilst under interrogation!
Later in the evening, Patrick Bracewell had the pleasure of proposing the toast to Richard’s health that included reminiscing about their time at the Preston Playhouse, reminding everyone that Richard is still a director at the Playhouse. He mentioned that, like within Freemasonry, Richard was always willing to help with the running of the Playhouse and had been a firm friend for over 50 years. It was during the early years that Richard invited Patrick to a number of Centenary social events. Patrick’s curiosity aroused, it wasn’t long before Richard had the pleasure of initiating him as a member of Centenary Lodge. He concluded by saying that Richard had been a benchmark for the brethren of both Centenary and later Concord Lodges.
Richard, in response, thanked all those who had supported him on this special occasion. He particularly mentioned his personal guests whom he referred to as his chauffeurs. He went on to recall some of the ‘Olde English Nights,’ and times of yore with medieval banquets that involved trying to consume soup, when the only piece of cutlery available was a knife. He concluded by turning the tables on David for his earlier comment regarding him not offering David a cup of tea when he called, by presenting him with a large box of chocolates as suitable compensation. Laughing, David replied by asking if he could share the chocolates with his wife, Sue. Richard, engaging his Liverpool humour, replied with the words: “If you really want to!”
The evening concluded with the lodge master, Bob Dickinson presenting Richard with a 50-year service lapel badge for him to wear with pride.
Sadly, a few days after his celebration, Richard was called to the ‘Grand Lodge Above.’ He was always a gentleman, an excellent Mason and most certainly lived respected and died regretted. He will be sadly missed by his family, the Masonic community and all those who knew him. Good night Richard, rest in peace – it’s been a privilege to have known you.
Thanks also go to Richard’s family for readily agreeing to the publication of this article.
Article and photographs by Phil Cragg.
(Another 2000 – 2001 Preston Master.)