Though he’s only been on the job 37 days, Winchester resident Paul Gleason knows he has a lot of work to do.
On Dec. 27, Gleason was installed as the 89th Grand Master of the Freemasons of Massachusetts. He follows in the footsteps of past Grand Masters such as Paul Revere and General Joseph Warren. The office of Grand Master is a volunteer position; the Grand Master is elected and installed on an annual basis. Tradition dictates that first-year Grand Masters are re-elected for a second and third year before another new Grand Master is elected.
Speaking of tradition, Gleason was installed on Dec. 27 because that is the feast day of John the Evangelist, a Roman Catholic and Anglican feast (For the record, Freemasons don’t have to believe in God/Jesus, but they must believe in something).
As Grand Master, Gleason presides over more than 26,000 Masons and 225 lodges (in 150 communities) throughout the Commonwealth. The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts was chartered in 1733, following the establishment of the Grand Lodges of England in 1717 and Ireland in 1725. This makes Massachusetts the third oldest Grand Lodge in the world and the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Gleason is considered to be the third “ranking” Mason in the world due to this precedent.
The Grand Master has two distinct responsibilities. In this capacity he has numerous ceremonial duties. He ensures the activities taking place within the jurisdiction comply with the Constitutions and Regulations of the Grand Lodge. The second responsibility he has is leading the business of the Grand Lodge, including:
• Chairman, Grand Lodge Board of Directors.
• President, Masonic Education & Charity Trust (ME&CT). The ME&CT is a 501©3 overseeing the charitable activities of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
• Chairman, Grand Lodge Library and Museum Board of Directors; a 501©3 responsible for the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library and the Grand Lodge Museum collection, both of which are open to the public.
• Member of the Masonic Health System (MHS) Board of Directors. With corporate headquarters in Charlton, MA, MHS includes The Overlook Life Care Community, which features independent, enhanced, post-acute and skilled nursing; as well as the Overlook Visiting Nurses Association which serves greater than 1,800 people each day.
Gleason found out he had been chosen as the next Grand Master in May. That gave him plenty of time to digest everything that was about to happen.
“I felt excitement mixed with terror,” he said about taking over as the third highest ranking Grand Master in the world.
When asked whether he’d want more time than the amount of years each Grand Master gets, Gleason said matter-of-factly that “three years is enough.”
Although he’s clearly prepared for the job (he became a Freemason in 1971), there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with being the highest ranking member of the organization. First, there’s the travel. Gleason said he won’t even be in Massachusetts next month. Second, he has about 160 positions to fill each year, from a Deputy Grand Master to Senior Wardens.
Thankfully, the pay makes it all worth while.
“I get between zero and zero dollars,” he joked, as the Freemasons are a volunteer organization.
Although members can sign up as early as 18 (the logic being that men become adults at 18), most people who respond to the organization’s marketing are in their late 30s. Once you factor in the years it takes to reach the level of Grand Master, it’s no surprise that most, if not all, are at retirement age. Being the Grand Master is a major commitment.
Some who join the Freemasons may dream of reaching the level that Gleason has achieved. But not the Winchester resident.
“I never thought about being Grand Master,” he offered.
Without even knowing it though, he began his path to Grand Master just hours into joining the organization. He said he was asked to become an inside sentinel, which is basically the first step (of many) in reaching the position of Grand Master.
In fact, his journey to Grand Master actually began in church when he was approached by a relative of his wife to join the Freemasons. Back then you needed to be invited in. Now, you can ask to join. If you do ask, however, you will be investigated, as the organization seeks only good men.
“We’re helping men become the best version of themselves,” Christopher Rooney, Communications and Development Associate Director (or as Gleason called him, “the man with all the facts”) said. “We always welcome people to consider joining.”
The Freemasons is sort of like a fraternity, minus the hazing of course. The men all know each other, even if they’ve never actually met. Gleason said he could be walking down the street and see someone wearing a Freemason pin and know that must be a good person.
“We’re a society with secrets, not a secret society,” he acknowledged.
Besides the money there are other perks to being Grand Master. For instance. Gleason is the only member allowed to wear the three-cornered hat inside the Masonic building (located at 186 Tremont St. in Boston). He also has a large office, big desk and an eight-seat meeting table.
The Masonic building itself is a pretty great place to call home. It was originally built in the 1850s, then sold to the government. The Freemasons built another building in 1861, which unfortunately burnt down. Finally, in 1899, they built the current building that still stands on Tremont Street, across from the Boylston subway stop on the Green Line.
“It was very overwhelming walking into the building,” Gleason admitted when speaking about the day he was installed as Grand Master.
Since the building is neatly 120 years old, there have been some improvements over the decades, such as adding a Grand Master boardroom 10 years ago, moving the library to the second floor and removing a department store that used to exist in the lobby in 1960. Coming soon will be a restaurant that could be set to open this year.
It’s not unheard of for a lodge to rent out space to a local business. Gleason said the Winchester lodge, which partnered with the Woburn lodge in the mid-1970s, has rented out its lower level. The lodge is located three doors down from the Graham Funeral Home on Arlington Road in Woburn.
There are lodges in 150 communities (11 lodges actually meet within the Masonic building in Boston). Each one stands independent by itself and can do whatever it wants so long as it falls within the parameters of the charter. The Winchester lodge runs a child ID program on Town Day.
Inside the Boston lodge are installation rooms that contain four portraits that represent the inner workings of King Solomon’s Temple. They also contain two stones: one rough and one smooth. The rough stone represents what we are, while the smooth stone represents what we want to be.
One installation room contains four portraits of men who represent four ideals of Freemasonry. George Washington represents faith: he had faith in country and fraternity; he was also an active mason in Virginia. General Joseph Warren represents hope: he was a Grand Master in the 1770s and later died during the Battle of Bunker Hill; he also reportedly financed Paul Revere’s ride. Marquis de Lafayette represents charity: he was a French nobleman who fought with the US for independence. Benjamin Franklin represents wisdom: he was a past Grand Master in Pennsylvania (after he moved from Massachusetts) who is, of course, known for discovering electricity and being one of the Founding Fathers of America.
It can be a lot to take in, especially when you’re the one in charge. Though Gleason comes from a smaller community, he appears ready to take on the challenge.
Gleason was raised in Winchester and educated at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida. He attended Williams College and graduated with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in 1964. In 1966, he received a Master of Arts from New York University’s Courant Institute. He then received his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University in 1968. He married his wife, Phyllis, in 1967, and has been a resident of Winchester since 1969.
In 1966, he was hired by The MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government. He served as Technical Staff and Group Leader until his retirement in 2005.
In 1971, he began his Masonic career by joining the William Parkman Lodge in Winchester. He served as the Worshipful Master, or presiding officer of the lodge, in 1975-76. Masons use the original definition of the word worshipful: honorable. English mayors and judges are addressed by the title of “Worshipful” even today. As Grand Master, members of the fraternity will call Brother Gleason “Most Worshipful.”
He is also a member of Corner Stone Lodge in Duxbury and Washington Lodge in Lexington. His service to the Grand Lodge began in 1997 when he was appointed District Deputy Grand Master for the Arlington 6th Masonic District. In 2003, he was elected to serve as Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge, the fourth highest position a Mason can hold in the state.
In that same year, Gleason also received the Henry Price Medal, the most prestigious honor conferred by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. In 2006, he began his service to the Grand Lodge’s Master’s Path program, an educational seminar for men who wish to become Worshipful Masters of their local Masonic lodges. He directed that program through the end of 2016.
He has been active in several Masonic organizations in his lifetime.
Gleason is a member of many bodies under the York Rite of Freemasonry. He is a member of Concord Royal Arch Chapter, Boston Council of Royal and Select Master Masons, and Saint Bernard Commandery #12.
A member of each of the bodies in Scottish Rite in the Valley of Boston, he has served on the production crew for the Valley since 2006. Scottish Rite ceremonies are performed as plays, so the production crew is integral to the success of the Scottish Rite program. Gleason also belongs to the Shriners, as a member of the Aleppo Temple in Wilmington, as well as the Massachusetts College of Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis.
Even with all that, the most exciting event is yet to come. This year is the 300th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of England and Gleason has been invited to the party. Besides that, he also gets to travel to less exciting places like Maine, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
For more information about Freemasons please call 1.800.882.1080 or visit MassFreemasons.org.