Interview by W Bro David Pugsley SLGR
Archbishop Samuel Harsnett, Archbishop of York, signed the Foundation Deed for Chigwell School, in 1629 - when KingJames I was on the throne. The school is the Alma Mater of our Metropolitan Grand Inspector, Nick Garnish. The Deed lays out careful provisions for the governance of the school. Headmasters were not to be gamblers, smokers, drunkards nor priests, boys were not to be too harshly caned; the twelvehour day included Latin and Greek grammars and the Lord's Prayer, the Te Deum and the 113th Psalm were to be said each day during the service. One wonderswhat the Archbishop had against Priests!
Bro Nick returned to the school several years ago as a Governor and Chairs the Finance and Property Committee. His two daughters have followed in his footsteps through the school gates - coeducational since the mid-1970s. The most famous Old Chigwellian, apart from Bro Nick, is William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, who was at the school in the mid-1650s. Charles II granted the land that makes up the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in repayment for the debts owed by the Crown to his father, Sir William, who was an Admiral.
Sadly, for Bro Nick, there was no Royal beneficence, and he worked his way up from the Trading Floor through several appointments in different financial institutions, to his current job as Treasurer of CIBC, a Canadian bank with headquarters in Toronto. As an aside, the HQ building for the bank was designed by the late architect I M Pei who created the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, coincidently, studied at the University of Pennsylvania. As far as we know, Bro Nick has no aspirations for the Hall of Fame, despite the interest (but lack of ability he tells me) he had in bass guitar as a teenager. He talks about and plays tennis regularly, with enthusiasm. He shares this interest with his wife, Julie, so maybe the Tennis Hall of Fame awaits?
With his busy job, my first question was how Bro Nick found the time for Freemasonry, let alone the pressure of being a Metropolitan Grand Inspector. It turns out that the secret is to have a very well organised diary and a plan to make sure that you can make the critical dates for the Inspectorate, particularly the more personal events like 50th and 60th certificates. One can easily imagine Bro Nick flying in from a Far East trip, picking up his Escorting Officer at the door of Freemason’s Hall and sweeping in to visit one of his Lodges before jetting off on his next mission. Sadly, like most of us in these times of coronavirus, he will be confined to barracks more than he, or the rest of us, would like.
Nevertheless, one can sense the corporate world and investment banks are never far away from his mind, as he talks about the different lodges within his patch and how to keep them alive and well. As Bro Nick tells me about the 1,450 freemasons and 60 odd Lodges that make up the Inspectorate, my mind is thinking of mergers and acquisitions in the corporate world. It does make sense for members of a failing lodge to think about their future however uncomfortable that might be, and sometimes help is needed to guide them in the right direction. Recent successes for the Inspectorate have been the take-over of Royal Albert Hall Lodge No 2986 by the Parachute Regiment No. 9315, and Skelmersdale Lodge No. 1658, which Bro Nick has successfully steered onto the University Scheme. “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam” is the Chigwell school motto translated as “find a way or make a way” which seems particularly apt for his Inspectorate!
We meet on a bright sunny morning, long before home lock-in was even an idea, basking in the reflected glow of St Paul’s on the other side of the road from our café, and one senses the sunny side of his character. Energetic and engaged with life, he was initiated into Old Chigwellian Lodge No
6648 in 1991, becoming Master for the first time in 1998 when the Lodge was 50 years old. As a pupil, he had always been curious about the freemasons coming into the school with their dark jackets and briefcases on a Saturday for their summer meeting, so he feels it was natural to have an interest in Freemasonry. He was introduced to the lodge by an old school mate and was not entirely surprised to see his former Mathematics tutor at his initiation.
He became a Freeman of the City and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Bakers several years ago, progressing to the Court (the governing body for the company) in 2017. The Company is one of the oldest liveries in the City of London, dating back more than 800 years. The Livery Companies emerged from the early guilds of artisans in the City of London gathering together for mutual benefit, generally around a Guild Church. In the modern age, the Bakers still have links to the trade. About two-thirds of the company are like Bro Nick who join to add their support for the charitable and educational purposes of the company, as well as to get further involved in the city in which they work.
The Bakers led to Bro Nick joining Laus Deo Lodge No 4821, the Livery Lodge of the Bakers, where he became Master in 2011. Laus Deo is one of the Lodges on the circuit of Livery Lodges, and as Master, it is a great honour to visit all 23 Lodges during your year. He also embarked on a busman’s
holiday joining the Worshipful Company of International Bankers, one of the most modern companies, where he has progressed to the Court and also Chairs the Finance Committee. Bro Nick was exalted into the Royal Arch in 1995 into Essex Schools Chapter No 6648, becoming MEZ in 2003.
Bro Nick has put his experience of being involved in these organisations, all of which rely on attracting and retaining members, to thinking about how Lodges do the same. He is keen to encourage initiatives within his Inspectorate, like an AGM, and an Initiates’ informal Dinner at an Italian restaurant with forty-six initiates from across the Inspectorate attending. On average, each Lodge within his bailiwick has 26 members. Of course, some are larger and thriving, while some struggle to make a meeting. He notes that each Lodge requires a strategy tailored to their circumstances, as some will need more help than others. It is essential to deploy the right sort of assistance at the right time to have the most impact, and this is where the Lodge members in conjunction with the visiting officer and senior visiting officer can make a difference to the future of the Lodge.
Bro Nick speaks about purpose. In the corporate world, this is one of the current buzzwords, but what does it mean to Freemasons? He points out that a useful goal for us is to ensure that we genuinely enjoy what we do. Of course, we may need to be flexible and to accept that there will be different interpretations depending on one’s background and the traditions of the Lodge. He points out that he attempts to convey this focus on enjoyment and “infectious enthusiasm” whenever he visits a Lodge; it is his primary ambition.
Before Bro Nick rushes back to the Trading Floor, he reminds me that he would not be able to perform his role as Met Grand Inspector without the support of a great team of Visiting Officers, Senior Visiting Officers and Escorting Officers. He is very mindful that they are all volunteers and they
too must enjoy their roles.
We have the chance to meet again, firstly at the Annual Meeting of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge in early March, when we were all doing Wuhan shakes and laughing at something that didn’t seem real; and the second time on a video call deep in lockdown when Bro Nick reflected on the things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same. For the moment, all meetings have been suspended and as well as thoughts
about how we might return to some semblance of a life that existed before, albeit with a socially distanced meeting of a small
number of members. What remains the same of course is the role of all of us to look after one another. Not just our families but our brethren around us and our communities.
Bro Nick, like most of us, is confident that freemasons and Freemasonry will continue to evolve once we are allowed to meetagain. I am sure the Arena readers will agree.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 41 July 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 41.