W Bro David Pugsley SLGR interviews
"Oui” is French for “yes”, as readers will know. For our Metropolitan Grand Inspector, W Bro Julian Soper PSGD this, he tells me, was about the limit of his French when his boss asked him whether he spoke the language.
Fortunately, he is a fast learner as the response gave him a job in Paris that required a more substantial vocabulary. He enrolled himself in night school to get up to speed. The extracurricular education must have worked, as the job was a great success. This just goes to show the power of saying “yes” - or even “oui” - when an opportunity presents itself.
Bro Julian’s father was an anaesthetist in the Royal Air Force, and the home he grew up in was near the RAF Hospital at Halton in Buckinghamshire. When we first talk, it is via ‘Zoom’ from that same house, which he has recently moved back to. From it, he has a view of the chalk escarpment of the Chilterns, which rise some 800 feet above sea level in that part of the country. Nearby is the ancient market town of Amersham, home to Dr Challoner’ s Grammar School, where Bro Julian went before attending Marlborough College and then Oxford, initially to study medicine. His broad interests took him away from the idea of becoming a doctor or a research scientist into economics, statistics and biology earning him a degree in Biochemistry. The medical world wasn’t left behind entirely, however, as he is now a Trustee of the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research. The Fund, established on the 250th anniversary of Grand Lodge, was the first Masonic charity with an objective that lay outside Freemasonry, namely that of furthering research into the science of surgery in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons. Bro Julian meets with the other Trustees once a year to choose between the applicants for research grants, favouring those that can lead to a practical benefit, rather than to pure research. During his time as an anaesthetist, Bro Julian’s father had cause to design a simple mechanical ventilator for keeping patients with severe respiratory problems alive. Amazingly, Bro Julian learned that his father’s design was being used as one of the blueprints for the respirator challenge earlier this year: often, necessity is the mother of invention, but, in this case, necessity is the very welcome beneficiary of earlier invention!
It was at Oxford that Bro Julian was introduced to Freemasonry by a couple of friends who had been initiated into the Apollo University Lodge no 357
(www .apollo357.com) and thought that Bro Julian would also enjoy it. The Lodge, consecrated in 1819 for students who have formally matriculated (or entered) the University, is one of the first two lodges (Isaac Newton University Lodge No 859, at Cambridge University being the other) that were allowed to initiate candidates under the age of 21 years. He was initiated into the Apollo University Lodge in 1984, aged 21, and was Exalted into the Apollo Chapter No 357 a year later. He still speaks on at least a weekly basis with some of the members from when he was first initiated. The enjoyment Bro Julian found in his early experiences of Freemasonry has led him to be a passionate advocate for ensuring Freemasonry is relevant and accessible to younger people, and led to his involvement in the UGLE Universities Scheme (www.universitiesscheme.com), becoming responsible for London in 2011 and Chairman in early 2019.
J R SOPER MASONIC CV
1984 - Initiated into Apollo University Lodge No 357
1992 - WM, Old Marlburian Lodge No 3533
1993 - WM, Burlington Lodge No 96
2014 - WM, Lodge of Good Fellowship No 3655
2017 - WM, British Lodge No 8
1985 - Exalted into Apollo University Chapter No 357
2018 - MEZ Old Union No 46
Secretary - Old Marlburian Lodge No 3533
Secretary - Royal Alfred Lodge No 780 Junior Deacon - Methuen Lodge No 631 (in Buckinghamshire)
2010 - MetAGReg
2011 - PAGDC
2012 - Chairman of the London Committee of the UGLE Universities Scheme
2017 - President of the Board of Grand Stewards for the Tercentenary 2019 - MetGInsp and PSGD [PGStdB] 2019 - Chairman of National Committee of the UGLE Universities Scheme
2020 - Chairman of the PSLC (Public Schools Lodges Council) Trustee - The Freemasons Fund for Surgical Research
The Universities Scheme was set up in 2005 to allow undergraduates to join and enjoy Freemasonry with the hope that they will continue their enthusiasm and interest after they have left. Bro Julian firmly believes that the shared experience of being initiated and enjoying their Freemasonry at this formative age helps create strong, life-long bonds between individuals, every bit as much as it does between those individuals and the Craft. Thus far, there are over 80 Lodges who are members of the Scheme in England and Wales, with a further 3 in South Africa and one in the West Indies - helping to continue to prove that point.
In 2012, Bro Julian, alongside W Bro Edward Lord PJGD, the then National Chairman of the Universities Scheme, presented a paper to the Quarterly Communications of Grand Lodge. The report extolled the virtues of slimmed-down meetings and festive boards as well as later meeting times as a means to engage and involve younger members; and the use of social media and Lodge websites to educate members, friends, families and local communities in the work done by Lodges and Chapters. Bro Julian notes during our interview that we have progressed significantly from where we were eight years ago, but that there is still a way to go. He gives me as an example that the average start time of Lodges in his Inspectorate is 4 pm and that some even meet as early as 2.30 pm, making it very difficult for younger, employed members to attend. He also references the importance of involving younger Freemasons in the decision making of Lodge Committees, something that some Lodges and Chapters still struggle to achieve in his experience.
For Bro Julian, as for many, Freemasonry has provided some lasting friendships, and also a great deal more including a desire to give back. It is no surprise that he has been so involved with his part in making sure that it continues to evolve and stay relevant for the younger generations to come. Closer to home it has even given his mother, Betty, wonderful care as a a resident at the Masonic care home in Watford (Prince Michael of Kent Court).
Leaving Oxford in the early 1980s, Bro Julian was attracted to the bright lights of the City of London. The Conservative Government were changing the way that business was done. Amersham International, just up the road from Dr Challoner’s School, where he had spent six months before University, had been newly privatised, along with many other household names, and the financial markets were about to be deregulated, so it was a boom time to use his mathematical brain. He joined a British Merchant Bank in the City where the Government Broker was still known to walk around in his top hat. The bank was acquired by Midland Bank, which we all have to thank for the introduction of “free” current accounts but probably not the need for banks to make money out of their customers by selling other services. HSBC acquired Midland and, at the time, it was one of the largest acquisitions in banking history. It allowed Bro Julian to further his career working not just in Paris but in the Far East and North and South America during his twenty-year career. His foray into the Far East, arriving in Hong Kong soon after the handover, coincided with the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the indirect effects of which reverberated through the world financial system for many years. The late 1990s and early 2000s were the beginning of on-line shopping and the end of some companies in the boom and bust of the dot com bubble. For, Bro Julian, it allowed him to say “yes” once again, this time to set up and run the project for HSBC’s e-commerce engine. In his words, this was a fantastic global project to run with regular visits to his development teams in Silicon V alley , V ancouver , New Y ork and Hong Kong. Success with e-commerce led to a return to front-line banking operations and a move into the work of private banking, first with the Queen’s bank, Coutts & Co., and then to set up his wealth management “boutique” with some friends from the industry, based in London’s Berkeley Square.
The “oui” that took him to Paris also took him to Normandy where, in 1641 a Frenchman, François de la Haye, built himself a Manoir some 15km from the sea. Eighty-three years later, the Manoir was extended to become a Chateau. Despite the ravages of the French Revolution over the next quarter of a century and occupation by the Gestapo during the Second World War, the Chateau somehow survived to the late 1950s when the previous owners took it on and restored it. For the last seventeen years, it has been Bro Julian’s favourite place of escape, even more so after the travel restrictions were lifted earlier in the summer. He tells me in our next call from this rural idyll that the change to remote working, both professionally and Masonically, has allowed him to spend the summer working from home, the most extended period he has been able to enjoy working in France since his first job in Paris. His partner, Crystal, and her daughters Izzie, Bella, and Rosalie, have also been able to take advantage of the extended summer and join him which, he says, has been even better. Crystal’s grandfather was a 33rd degree Rose Croix Freemason, and she worked for Supreme Council until recently.
W Bro J R Soper - 5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW:
1. Has a half blue for clay pigeon shooting and another for wine tasting.
2. Was nearly exalted for a second time due to a misunderstanding with a chapter he thought he was visiting!
3. Is Secretary of a Lodge where he had the unusual distinction of recording in the Minutes that three Grand Masters had
received their Grand Lodge Certificates from the Pro Grand Master.
4. Is a published poet - this was something he achieved when only 11 and he has never been able to repeat.
5. The inscription above the main fireplace of the Chateau is the motto of the Grand Lodge of Italy - no one can explain why.
The Chateau du Mont is in the East of Normandy and is surrounded by apple orchards, which Bro Julian tells me he uses to make the local Calvados brandy. The apples look like they will be a bumper harvest despite the dry weather this year and he has had the considerable pleasure of spending
the summer watching them ripen to the optimal sweetness. They are harvested in big nets below the trees and pressed to make cider, and then the man, who each year visits all the local growers, arrives with the travelling copper still. The distilled spirit, stored in aged oak barrels in the chateau’s cellar, matures for at least six years when it becomes “hors d’age” meaning beyond age.
Another passion is for his dogs. He has two whippets, Judy and Gatsby, who thoroughly approve of having the space at their French home-from-home to race around at full pelt displaying the speed and grace of their breed. The two are very much part of the family, even making an introduction to other diners in a nearby restaurant by stealing their bread rolls. Readers may recognise the victim of one of these crimes in the picture
We catch up again, briefly, before Bro Julian’s return to the UK in this strangest of years. When we speak, the autumn seems to betoken a return to a more normal life, only to be suddenly curtailed once again by the virus and the introduction of ‘the rule of six’, reducing the number of people who can meet together . We reflect on the way we have all adapted to Zoom meetings and remote working. At least he has been able to keep in touch with his Lodges during this time by regularly dropping in on their meetings even from rural France. Like all of us, he is looking forward to a return to sharing bread and wine with our brethren once again and, perhaps, if he is your Inspector you might persuade him to bring some Calvados with him – but keep an eye on your bread-rolls if Judy and Gatsby accompany him!
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 42 October 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 42.