Past and Honorary Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Austria
Grand High Priest of York Rite Austria
Member of Board of International Masonic Affairs
It was just before yearend 2021 when I received the message from my fraternal companion Edmund (Ted) D. Harrison: “I have just learned of the passing of Tom Jackson, truly the greatest man and mason I have known. May he rest in peace and may we dedicate ourselves to follow the principles he so clearly demonstrated throughout his life”.
Even if we have to be careful with such absolute statements, it prompted me to immediately respond as follows:
“My brethren, I really hope the Masonic World (yes literally, the world) grasps the chance of this very sad occasion to remember his incredible contributions in building such a world! All Masons claim to be part of a worldwide chain, but in reality we are not. He was one of the few who not only had a vision for its possible realization, he contributed incredibly to pave the way, travelling, speaking, writing, building bridges and above all courageously addressing incompetence, vanity and hypocrisy of so-called leaders. But he was always positive, alert, listening and learning. For us Europeans he was proof that the old American spirit in Masonry still has its place in our future. We must guard this legacy!”
It was shortly after I had been elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Austria in 2002 when I was introduced to him by the German Grand Master at that time, Alfred Koska. Alfred was instrumental in creating and supporting the so called Sinaia Protocol Initiative which was created in February 2000 in the City of Sinaia in Romania. It was an assembly of mostly new Grand Lodges of the European East, Romania, Moldova, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia/Montenegro, Bulgaria and Russia. They were joined by the old, established Grand Lodges of Germany, Netherlands and Italy at the beginning and many more later, also by Austria. Later it was called Sinaia Protocol Conference and it was in 2006 in Rome when 15 European jurisdictions decided unanimously to give it more and official character by calling it European Masonic Forum (EMF). The very ambitious and very successful initiative constantly included an attempt to formally include UGLE to join – not only as silent observer -, and it was only a year later that the leading officers of UGLE – primarily “Spanny” Northampton – invited ALL European jurisdictions, recognized and non-recognized to meet in London to organize such an institution under UGLE leadership. This was the end of EMF and also the end of the ambitious concept.
Tom Jackson was a very strong supporter and missionary of these initiatives and he was widely listened to throughout the masonic world in his capacity as Executive Secretary of the World Conference of Regular Masonic Grand Lodges.
The World Conference was created in Mexico City in 1995 in an attempt to provide a permanent platform for exchange of ideas and for personal contacts at the highest level. It expressly excludes any kind of binding resolutions. While the idea of such a platform was European, it was organized as a US institution, probably also because Masonry in the United States had proven for many years to properly handle Grand Lodges interests without depriving them from their sovereignty and independence. The latter being an almost religious aspect of European conception of the so-called World Chain.
Tom Jackson, at that time Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, was appointed the first Executive Secretary of the World Conference in 1998 and held this position for 16 years until 2014. The fact that this institution has survived until today is widely Tom’s merit. He resigned in 2014 and in an election in May 2014 in Bucharest the audience appointed the Romanian Grand Master Radu Balanescu among 4 candidates as the new Executive Secretary. Two of them, including myself, had withdrawn their candidacy before the vote. My reason for this I explained in a letter of May 17th, 2014 which Tom read to the audience, being also published in Masonic Forum Magazine.
Tom had many human and intellectual qualities. He was particularly ambitious and successful in making friends around the globe, mostly in connection with his personal hobby, hunting and fishing. In his masonic attitude he saw himself both in the role of a good and brave soldier, but also as a courageous and very outspoken masonic politician. He not only detected the deficiencies and weaknesses of our organization, he addressed them openly and without mercy. He meticulously avoided though to use his position in the World Conference to discuss and possibly install mechanisms of fighting such deficiencies and solve problems, like it is done e.g. in the Conference of North American Grand Masters, because he always wanted to be in line with the Constitution of the World Conference.
I had many arguments with him in my function as leader in EMF and later as HIS candidate for his succession as Executive Secretary to be more committal, but he was reluctant and cautious in making any changes. That was his “military” posture which awarded him a lot of sympathies with many of the ruling Grand Masters.
Let me conclude my short memento of his marvelous contributions to the masonic World by quoting him in his written message to the CMI Conference in Tijuana in 2012:
“My brothers each one of us has been granted the great privilege of holding membership in a fraternal organization that changed the course of civilization. Each one of us was deemed worthy to be given the opportunity of continuing to contribute to the ongoing evolution of civil societies. Each one of us has been given the honorific title of “Brother” and each one of us through that “mystic tie” has been linked to some of the greatest men and greatest minds that ever lived.
Now, we must ask ourselves do we deserve this honor. How can we seriously expect the world outside to accept us as being a Brotherhood of men when we cannot even be a brother to each other within the Craft?
I have now sat for several years and listened to not only Masonic brothers but good friends discuss the need to become one and to develop agreeable plans to do so. I have walked away from several negotiating sessions where the same brothers and friends signed their names on a solemn pledge of agreement to resolve their differences. Even as they have remained friends, Freemasonry has become a dividing issue rather than a unifying brotherhood. How can this happen in an organization where it’s very precepts are not to divide but to unify; not to be intolerable but to preach toleration, not to condemn each other but to reach out to each other as a brother.
This world needs our philosophy and our precepts as a contributory premise to craft the men who will continue to build our societies. The fundamental principles of Freemasonry played a major role through its members in leading the way in the world’s struggles for freedom, liberty and equality of men. The world probably needs this guidance more today than ever in our past. The leadership of today’s world societies seems more intent on fermenting discord than on cementing peace. This is where Freemasons, those good men who were made better, through the fundamental teachings of Freemasonry could play a vital role in what should be its ongoing quest for peace.
My brothers, reflect back on the names of Simon Bolivar, George Washington, Giuseppe Garibaldi, San Martin, Bernardo O’Higgins, Theodore Kolokotronis, Benito Juarez, Lajos Kossuth, Mustafa Ataturk and a host of others who were the responsible leaders who contributed to the creation of the world as we know it today and who were Freemasons. Reflect back to so many other great men, Freemasons, in so many diverse fields who contributed to the creation of a peaceful and stable world environment. Men like, Amadeus Mozart, Sir Alexander Fleming, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, Voltaire, Douglas MacArthur, John Wayne, Johan von Goethe, Norman Vincent Peale, Davy Crockett, Red Skeleton and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Where are the men like those in our fraternity today? Have we really regressed intellectually, ethically and spiritually in our teachings and actions that we are no longer inspiring men of that caliber? Have we permitted the egos of lesser men to contribute to the deterioration of our Masonic ideals?
Freemasonry is growing in my many parts of the world at a more rapid rate than it has for a couple of centuries. Expansion into Eastern Europe and the growth of Freemasonry in Africa is offering an opportunity that we have not seen for many years to play a major role in the world’s future.
While at the same time dissension in Grand Lodges is presenting one of the greatest threats to our future that we have ever seen. This dissension is giving the opportunity for the spread of irregular forms of Freemasonry lacking the fundamental landmarks and protocols that made us great and creating competing Grand Lodges in the same jurisdictions.
My brothers, there is only one place to lay the blame for this dissension and deterioration and that is on the shoulders of the leadership of Freemasonry today. That is upon you in upon me. If the Craft fails to maintain or regain its rightful place in society, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Ego bloated individuals with an unwillingness to place the future of Freemasonry ahead of their own personal gain will be responsible for our failure and they have no business being Freemasons. One observation I have made is that those most responsible do not see themselves in that position. Do we really want to be included in that number?
Almost from its inception as a speculative fraternity, Freemasonry has been under attack by governmental and religious leaders because we did not fit into the mold of absolute submission to their dictates. Our emphasis on toleration and our non-dogmatic position on religion and politics were not acceptable to these entities whose very existence depended upon acceptance of their dictates.
And yet, in spite of all of the ongoing attacks by our enemies, Freemasonry has not only survived, it has thrived as an organized speculative fraternity for almost 300 years. It has spread across the face of the earth where there was freedom to practice it and in many cases that freedom to practice it was won by the leadership of Freemasons. Make no doubt about it, my brothers, without Freemasonry this world would be a vastly different place. Our brothers of the past have set a philosophical standard upon which any civilized society can thrive. We have structured a premise that could well serve as a template for universal world peace.
And yet, I continue to travel the world searching for solutions to unify regular Freemasonry only to find that the egos of a few prevent the unification of the many. Why do we listen to more excuses for why we can’t succeed than to suggestions on how we can succeed.
Many years ago I said, I would rather see Freemasonry die, being recorded in history as a great organization that contributed to a mankind rather than to survive as less than it can and should be. I do not want to be recorded in history as being part of the generation that led to the destruction of it.
My brothers, I again express my regret that I am not with you. Please, let your deliberations and actions contribute to the ongoing success of the greatest organization ever conceived by the mind of man.”
It is my strong conviction that Masonry today needs many more personalities like Tom Jackson and much more attention to the problems we are confronted with.
May he rest in peace, but not his legacy!
(Vienna, Austria, Jan 16th, 2022)