A large gathering of Royal Arch Freemasons was recently treated to an insight into the musical tastes and personal history of a very senior Freemason - Russell Race.
Though his Masonic origins were in East Kent, Russell has risen through the ranks to his present high office as Second Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter. In this capacity he serves as one of the Rulers of the Holy Royal Arch in England and Wales.
Russell spent the evening of Tuesday 5th September as the Honoured Guest of the East Kent Provincial Grand Stewards’ Chapter No 5866. Meeting on this occasion in Gillingham, Russell submitted himself to an interview in the style of BBC Radio Four’s “Desert Island Discs”.
The radio show was first broadcast in 1942 and was devised and presented initially by Roy Plomley. It still runs to this day and the current presenter is Kirsty Young. Guests are invited to imagine they have been cast away on a desert island and to choose eight pieces of music to take with them. They are then asked which book they would take: they are automatically allowed the complete works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work. Guests may also choose one luxury item which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.
After the opening strands of “By the Sleepy Lagoon” Russell was introduced by the interviewer for the evening - Geoffrey Dearing. Geoffrey is the Head of East Kent Freemasons and currently Second Principal of the Stewards’ Chapter and has known Russell for a long time. Geoffrey began by inviting his guest to tell everyone about his childhood. Russell was born and spent his first twelve years in Gloucestershire where his father was employed as a metallurgist. As the audience would come to realise, Russell supports Gloucester’s rugby union team, Liverpool’s football team and Kent’s cricket team.
1st Disc: The Magic Flute Overture, by Mozart.
When Russell was twelve years old, his father moved to Rochester to work for the Blaw Knox engineering company. Russell transferred to the second year of Sir Joseph Williamsons Mathematical School where he stayed until completing the sixth form. It was here, while learning to play violin, and inspired by one of his teachers, that his interest in music was established. His education continued at Liverpool University where, with access to the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, his taste in music developed further. Graduating with a BA in Economics, Russell spent a year or so in the steel industry and then a government quango, before joining a firm of Brokers in London. He said that his interview for this position took place one evening in the unlikely setting of a pub in Bow Lane.
2nd Disc: Impromptu No 2 in E flat major, by Schubert.
Russell’s Masonic career began in 1969 when he was initiated in the City of Rochester Lodge No 7941. His father was one of the lodge Founders and had the gift of a photographic memory and could learn ritual very quickly. Six years later Russell was exalted in the Pentangle Chapter No 1174 where his father was also a member.
3rd Disc: Romeo and Juliet (Dance of the Knights), by Prokovlev.
In the Provincial Grand Lodge of East Kent Russell progressed from Steward to Senior Warden, Treasurer, Assistant Provincial Grand Master and Deputy Provincial Grand Master. It was at this stage that his progress took an unexpected turn. He was invited by the then Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, to accept the new office of Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master for London. Russell accepted what was a significant challenge requiring a restructuring of Freemasonry in London. Success in this role led to him being appointed Metropolitan Grand Master for London, in which capacity he served for six years until 2015. Russell also served in equivalent roles in London’s Holy Royal Arch. It was in November 2015 that Russell was appointed to his present high office of Second Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter.
4th Disc: Prelude No 5 in G minor, by Rachmaninoff.
With all of Russell’s professional and Masonic responsibilities, his involvement as a Rochester Bridge Warden and a Justice of the Peace in Chatham, Geoffrey asked: “How do you manage to do it all?” Russell explained that the key was delegation. In London for example, he built up a good team and was able to rely on them.
5th Disc: Swan Lake (Hungarian Dance), by Tchaikovsky.
At this stage Russell expanded on how his musical tastes had widened from his early school experiences of Gilbert and Sullivan.
6th Disc: La Bohème, Act 1,(Che gelida mania), by Puccini.
Geoffrey invited Russell, in his capacity as Second Grand Principal with countrywide responsibilities, to comment on how the Holy Royal Arch was faring. Russell replied that there were lots of innovations in both Craft and Royal Arch, particularly over membership. He stressed the importance of the well-being of the Craft for the Royal Arch and observed that the Provinces that have adapted to change are doing well.
7th Disc: Pathétique, Piano Sonata No.8 (Rondo allegro), by Beethoven.
Geoffrey asked about the future of the Holy Royal Arch. Russell answered that there were to be no major changes in the foreseeable future, as there was a need to allow recent changes to bed down. He stressed the importance of keeping on explaining the meaning of the historical language used in the ritual so that it could be fully understood. However more changes in the longer term remain a possibility.
8th Disc: Jazz suite No.1, (Foxtrot), by Shostakovich.
In thanking Russell for taking part in this interview, Geoffrey reminded him that he was entitled to a copy of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Russell’s choice of a book that he thoroughly enjoyed returning to now and again was “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. As for his luxury item, Russell, with a big smile, asked for a case of Pol Roger Champagne.
Russell’s interview was enjoyed by everyone present and, before retiring to the Festive Board, Geoffrey Dearing thanked those involved in organising the event. In particular, Ian Blowers for helping to structure the programme and Jake Jackson for providing and operating the sound system.
The photo shows Russell Race with Geoffrey Dearing (Second Principal), Peter Morris (First Principal) and Pat Thomas (acting Third Principal of the Stewards’ Chapter).
Report and photo: Andrew Notley