The members of the South Eastern Group of lodges and chapters held their 2018 biennial group dinner at ‘The Venue’ function suite at Urmston Masonic Hall, and the principal guest for the evening was none other than the Provincial Grand Master Anthony James Harrison.
Tony was accompanied by host and South Eastern Group Chairman David Durling, Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning, Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Walmsley and group vice chairman Gareth Jones, along with Peter Taylor (Provincial Grand Secretary) and other grand and acting Provincial grand officers of the province, all very ably guided by the presence of both Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Keith Kemp and Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barry Fitzgerald.
There were over 90 group members present including group representatives of the Eccles and District Group, and all were given the opportunity to have a brief chat with Tony prior to the commencement of the dinner on this special group occasion. This was rather less formal than the questions and answers session as held at previous dinners where brethren and companions put specific questions about their Freemasonry and received responses from the various Provincial team members present. This was much more relaxed and was greatly appreciated by all.
Following the informal chat, the dinner commenced and all present enjoyed the pleasure of each other’s company at the table. There was a comfortable buzz of conversation and laughter as the evening progressed and for those who weren’t driving, the bar was most inviting with beer and wine in plentiful supply.
Then that point in the evening arrived where first Tony and then David took wine with a series of senior officials present before Tony took wine with all present. This was followed by an excellent and highly respectful toast proposed to Tony by Shaun Brookhouse of Prince Leopold, Doric and Parkfield Lodge No 1588. Shaun made mention of the truly dizzying number of appointments, offices and honours earned by Tony in the course of his Masonic career and the brethren present, more than a little surprised by the wide range, not just of Craft honours but Royal Arch and other Masonic Orders.
Tony responded by firstly thanking Shaun for his very well received toast then continued by thanking David Durling for hosting and organising the group dinner and all those officers and individuals involved in making such a fine and well attended evening. Tony also thanked the other officers of the group for all their continued efforts. He made mentioned of the various long service celebrations with particular reference to the recent 60th celebrations of Bill Young and Tony Johnson. He then thanked Peter Harding and his team for the hard work they put in to running Urmston Masonic Hall and The Venue. Tony voiced concern over the need to make more use of Masonic halls or risk losing them following the recent sale of the Leyland complex.
Tony congratulated the recipients of both Craft and Royal Arch Provincial honours in 2018 and went on to mention the Royal Arch and how it was the natural completion of the Masonic journey hoping that all would realise this and that the overall membership could be much increased from its current level. He rounded things off by mentioning the MCF, that the Province received support to the tune of approximately £1,000,000 per year and told us of the forthcoming efforts which were to be made by Peter Taylor who, in February, March and April 2019 was to undertake a series of marathons, culminating in a triathlon at Southport and Tony hoped that all members of the group would seriously consider sponsoring him in these herculean efforts.
Tony having received an excellent response from the brethren and companions, Provincial Senior Grand Warden John Karran then rose to propose a toast to the South Eastern Group, making special reference towards charity in Freemasonry but more over to the registered charity set up by Ezra McGowan who has worked tirelessly in supporting homeless individuals and to provide generally for those less fortunate with food, clothing, crisis packs and even tents through the Forget Me Not Trust.
John said that during the evening he had heard and learnt of many encouraging group initiatives, had seen that the group was clearly in great shape, said how much he had enjoyed the evening and congratulated David and the various officers, wishing the group well for the future.
David Durling responded, thanking John for his toast on behalf of the group, congratulated the Provincial Team and all those involved in running Masonic halls and made special mention of Radio Millennium Lodge No 9709 and their 1881 Club for ‘light Blues’. He thanked everyone for attending and most specially welcomed Tony, the wardens, the Provincial Grand Secretary, the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and his deputy for their most welcome presence and support during the evening.
David thanked the staff of the hall for their work in providing the dinner and all those involved in planning and of course attending the dinner and finally presented a magnificent cheque for the sum of £1,500 to Tony from the South Eastern Group made out to the MCF 2021 Festival, which sum took the group up to Patron status, a fact which was reinforced by Provincial Charity Steward Denis Tierney presenting David with a certificate to mark the occasion!
Then on behalf of the group, David presented bouquets of flowers to both Tony and to Philip Gunning to take home to their wives. Tony thanked David and the brethren for the presentation which brought the most convivial and memorable group dinner to its conclusion.