Man at the Top — W Bro John Shulman PSGD MetGInsp
W Bro David Pugsley SLGR interviews
I first meet Bro John on a Microsoft Teams’ call during the February snowfall in London. His background picture is of an island off the Great Barrier Reef where he went snorkelling with his wife, Gilly, during a cruise a few years ago. It makes for a warm backdrop to an otherwise chilly Monday evening and a welcome one at that.
He met his wife, Gilly, at a cookery class organised by a Jewish cookery writer to find new recipes to cook for his children, now grown up but at the time living with him. He neglects to tell me whether he still does the cooking in his house, but his efforts were reasonable enough for them to get together. They married in 2008 and enjoyed a honeymoon in the Far East, travelling around Hong Kong, Singapore and sailing up the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok. A delightful start to their married life and the genesis of many a happy cruise since. Sadly, since the worldwide pandemic, there has been no getting away from it all. They have postponed their visit to the Rio Carnival, scheduled for this year, for two years. Maybe by then, the world will have returned to some version of normal.
He was promoted to Inspector at the last Annual Meeting of Metropolitan Grand Lodge in those heady days when we were all giving each other Wuhan Shakes and not even realising what was coming. His first official visit to a Lodge as an Inspector was due to occur on 17th March, the day of suspension of all Masonic activities. The shiny chain of his Office sits unworn in its box. Gilly, who had been told by his friends not to expect to see him for the next five years, has been pleasantly surprised to have him at home over the past year.
He was no stranger to Freemasonry as his entire family, including his mother, were Freemasons. He remembers seeing ritual books around the house and wondering what all the initials like WM and JD meant. Even more, he remembers the feeling of Freemasonry being something worthwhile in life. His father, the youngest of six, four brothers and two sisters (the brothers became Freemasons as did the sisters’ husbands) was initiated into Atlas Lodge No 6083 by W Bro Jack Cohen, later Sir Jack Cohen, the Tesco supermarkets founder. Sadly, his father died when Bro John was 16, so he could not initiate him into Atlas.
With his family background, he was always interested in becoming a Mason, and it was the prompting of a couple of friends that moved him from interest to action. His initiation in 1990 was into Titan Lodge No 6002, where his friends were members. Titan sits in the same Lodge family tree as Atlas, so he wasn’t far from his family’s roots. At the ceremony in 1990 were two of his uncles, one a Grand Officer, which meant nothing to Bro John but made a pleasant memory nevertheless. Ideally, he would like to continue the family connections at Atlas Lodge at some stage, but he wants to make sure that he can participate in the proceedings. For the moment, he has put it on the back burner.
The connections across the years remain. Sitting in as Senior Warden on a recent visit on either side were the sons of his father’s great friends. In due course, he hopes to introduce his son to freemasonry, perhaps with a few of his friends, thus continuing the family tradition for another generation.
In the nineteenth century, religious persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe brought many immigrants to London’s Jewish community in the East End. Many were on their way to America, but family ties and the additional travel cost kept them in London, adding their efforts to the late Victorian era’s economic boom. John’s Grandparents were among them. His grandfather on his father’s side arrived from Poland, and on his mother’s side from Eastern Europe. His grandfather was a publican, and his father started a wholesale tailoring business. Like a lot of his generation, he worked from dawn to dusk to make the business successful. Bro John describes his father’s Freemasonry as an opportunity to take R&R, and his mother’s, who joined through an Aunt who was high up in the Women’s fraternity, as “if you can’t beat them, join them”.
He grew up in North London, in Palmers Green, just down the road from the Southgate Masonic Centre. His mother wanted him to be an accountant but, aged 14, he thought a computer career might be better. The Americans had landed on the moon the year before, so you can imagine a young lad enthralled by those banks of computers in mission control. Neither one of them happened. He did a foundation course in accounting but switched tracks after a year in Israel to train as a teacher completing a degree in Education. He spent the next eighteen months in Israel but left and started looking for something else to do in the UK. An interview for a job in factoring came up. He knew nothing about the role but applied nevertheless. Fortunately, the night before the interview, a chance encounter with a friend, who happened to be in the same business, gave him the chance to appear slightly knowledgeable. The interview was successful. He stayed at that company for the next twenty years before working for a different firm and finally setting up his own business that celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. For those readers wondering about factoring, companies use the service to improve their cash-flows.
At his initiation into the Craft, one of his uncles, Excellent Companion John Beer said to him, “you didn’t join his Lodge (meaning Atlas, his father’s Lodge), you are joining his Chapter”. Exultation into Goliath Chapter No 5595 in 1992 started his Royal Arch career leading to Senior London Grand Chapter Rank in 2016 via Metropolitan Grand Chapter Steward, Visiting and Senior Visiting Officer. Three weeks after getting his Chapter Rank, he was promoted to PAGDC in the Royal Arch. His father would have been very proud.
Living near London and being initiated into a London Lodge, he has kept the centre of his Freemasonry in London. The two friends who had introduced him to the Craft asked him to become a founder of a Lodge they wanted to set up in Bushey. The idea was to cater for Freemasons who didn’t want to travel into Great Queen Street. The Lodge, Burning Bush No 9608, was consecrated in 1996. He became one of the founders of the Chapter, which followed in 2001. Also, in 2001, Bro John joined Euclid Lodge of Installed Masters No 7464, where he was Secretary for five years until his promotion to Inspector. He still has joining forms available to send out to any readers who aren’t yet members of an Installed Masters’ Lodge. Avid readers of Arena will have read our various articles on the benefits and enjoyment of joining such a Lodge, so feel free to contact Bro John or any of the other Secretaries.
His carefully researched gift to himself for his semi-retirement was a beautiful red Mercedes 300 SL roadster bought for trips to the continent as a grand tourer. Sadly, a full diary in the first year and the global pandemic in the second year of ownership have prevented continental travel. Still, he took it to his son’s wedding and also managed a trip to Shropshire between lockdowns. One can imagine that as soon as his Inspectorate diary and the lifting of travel restrictions allow, he and Gilly will be off. Perhaps to enjoy the superb sound that three litres of German engineering produce, powering them through an alpine valley or some such romantic getaway. We hope that we will all be able to enjoy such freedom before too long.
As we close our interview, Bro John reminds me that we are not looking forward to returning to Freemasonry; that has not gone away. We are all looking forward to returning to the time when we return to our meetings, and we can see Bro John’s chain finally get out of its box.
- 1. Sang at the Royal Albert Hall
- 2. Knows how to milk a cow
- 3. Spent New Year’s Eve afloat in Sydney Harbour
- 4. Speaks modern Hebrew
- 5. Has the same initials as a pop group
Ranks, Awards and Posts
PProvGSuptWks, Herts 2014
ProvAGStb, Herts 2010
SVO, London 2016
VO, London 2010
MetGStwd, London 2008
ProvGStb, Herts 2009
Memberships (Current Subscribing)
Titan Lodge No 6002
Burning Bush Lodge No 9608
Euclid Lodge of Installed Masters No 7464
Fratres Calami No 3791
Goliath Chapter No 5595
Burning Bush Chapter No 9608
Hertfordshire First Principals No 4090
Euclid Chapter of First Principals No 7464
Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter No 9812
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 44 April 2020 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 44.