A packed Ulverston Masonic Hall was the setting for the meeting of the Lodge of Furness No 995 which saw Rowly Saunders celebrate his 50th anniversary as a Freemason.
Former Furness and South Lakeland Group Chairman Rowly holds grand rank and processed into the lodge alongside a host of grand and acting Provincial grand officers. The local Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger, who led the celebrations, was accompanied by two of his compatriots in the persons of Harry Cox and Stewart Seddon. A further 11 grand officers, including Norman Thompson the Provincial Grand Master of Cumberland and Westmorland, were in the procession.
Provincial Deputy Grand Directors of Ceremonies Mark Barton and Barry Fitzgerald supervised proceedings. They were joined by acting officers in the persons of Andrew Ridal, Phil Preston, Bernard Snape, Ian Thompson, Chris Larder and Chris Gray.
Following the introduction of David and the requisite salutations, proceedings were interrupted by a late-comer requiring entry. It was in fact Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Keith Kemp who announced the arrival, to the surprise of all, but a very welcomed addition to the number of distinguished guests in attendance, in the person of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. Rowly and Tony are firm friends having worked together in the north of the Province for many years.
Amongst those taking a keen interest in the proceedings were a very proud John Brady, the husband of Rowly’s daughter Debbie, and Rowly’s equally proud grandson Robert Rowland Brady. Robert is a member of Lodge of Furness as is Rowly’s brother-in-law Ronnie Jackson who was also present.
As is usual on such occasions Rowly was seated in front of David, who had occupied the master’s chair, whilst he gave an outline of his life and career thus far.
Harold Rowland Saunders was born at Sparkbridge near Ulverston in 1937. His father was a haulage contractor with horses and carts at that time although shortly after he moved onto wagons. From the age of six Rowly was given the duty, along with his elder brother, of washing the wagons at weekends.
He passed the exams which enabled him to attend Ulverston Grammar School. On leaving school he was employed at Martins Bank in Coniston where he proudly boasts that he was second in command of the branch – there only being two employees! He still maintained his association with the family business and drove for them at weekends.
In 1956 he was called up for National Service and served in the RAF as a radio mechanic in Cyprus. On demob he returned to the bank but by this time his father’s health was failing and he requested a leave of absence from the bank. They refused and he resigned. He entered the family business where he remained until his retirement in November 2015, an association of 73 years. In 1961 he married Joyce and subsequently she gave birth to Debbie.
Rowly is still a member of the Kirkby and Ireleth Parish Council and has served two spells as its chairman. He is the chairman of the Kirkby in Furness branch of the British Legion.
In 1970 Rowly joined Rotary and his commitment to that charitable organisation saw him made a Paul Harris Fellow the highest honour it can award. It was under the auspices of Rotary that Rowly first organised concerts to raise charitable funds. He thought that it would be a good idea for the Northern Group, as it was then, to stage concerts. There was some opposition from the hierarchy at that time but that soon melted away when the events proved both successful and profitable.
Two decades later they are still going strong and have raised many £1,000s for local charities during that time. Kenny Ball, Herman’s Hermits and the Batchelors are amongst the acts he has engaged for the annual concerts but his personal favourite is the Irish singer Ann Breen. David had contacted Ann to inform her of Rowly’s special night and in return she had sent him a letter of congratulation along with a promise of a very special song in her programme for Rowly when next they meet.
Insofar as his Masonic career is concerned Rowly was, after a few years on the waiting list, initiated into the Lodge of Furness on 6 September 1966. He became master of the lodge in 1978 and afterwards served the lodge as assistant director of ceremonies and treasurer. He has been a member of the Ulverston Masonic Hall committee for 40 years.
He was appointed a Provincial Grand Steward in 1985, promoted to Past Provincial Grand Sword Bearer in 1989 and to Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in 1995. In 1997 he received his first appointment to grand rank as Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies and was promoted to the rank of Past Junior Grand Deacon in 2007.
Rowly served for 20 years on the group executive, being group chairman from 2006 until 2013. From its inception in 1985 until 1993 he was the treasurer of the boxing committee whose annual event has raised considerable funds for charity. A founding member of the Lonsdale Lodge of Installed Masters No 9422, he is also a joining member of Lathom Lodge No 2229.
He was exalted into the Royal Arch in 1980 and now holds the rank of Past Assistant Grand Sojourner. Until its recent installation meeting he had been the first principal of Vale Chapter of Installed Principals No 5256. He holds high rank in other Masonic Orders.
One person who was unable to be present was Past Provincial Grand Master Peter Hosker. He had sent a letter which was read by David expressing his regret at being unable to be present and congratulating the celebrant whilst paying tribute to the contribution he had made to the success and happiness of the Furness and South Lakeland Group. He described Rowly as a man of principle with a sense of duty and of honour who always acts in a kind and courteous manner, a ‘gentle man’ and gentleman.
These sentiments were echoed by David who then called upon group chairman Peter Schofield to read the citation on the 50 years certificate. He then asked Tony to present the certificate which he did in a very warm and heart felt manner.
Richard Wilcock, who is also the group charity steward, stepped forward to present David with a cheque being a donation to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity from Rowly. In addition he took the opportunity to present a cheque for £2,800 on behalf of the group towards the 2021 Festival, which when added to the donations previously made entitles the group to claim grand patronage when the festival is officially launched.
There not being enough room to accommodate all those who wanted to dine, the celebratory banquet was held at the Olde Mill, Bardsea on the shores of Morecambe Bay. The 120 diners enjoyed prawns, beef and Peach Melba, a dessert that Rowly is famed for requesting whenever he gets chance.
The toast to the celebrant’s health was proposed in a very humorous manner by Jos Kenley. In response Rowly paid tribute to the many people who had assisted him throughout his Masonic career.
To mark the occasion Russ Greenhow, on behalf of the Lodge of Furness, presented Rowly with a bottle of brandy and an inscribed pen set. Hair stylist and barber Russ has been cutting Rowly’s hair since he entered the profession at the age of 15. He did observe that the work involved nowadays was not as it once was!
The friendship and banter at the Olde Mill proved a fitting end to what had been a very special occasion for all who had witnessed it, but of course Rowly in particular who, being the unassuming man he is, was obviously very touched and perhaps a little embarrassed at the great praise and tributes which had quite rightly been poured upon him in ample steams.