Victoria Jubilee Masonic Benevolent Fund
As the new Deputy Chairman of the Fund and conscious of the exemplary contribution of my predecessor, Brother Trevor Morrow, I thought it appropriate, as an aspect of seamless transition, to refer to his concluding remarks in last year's report where he recorded the fact that the Fund was about to enter a new era of great change.
That change, brought about by the greatly enhanced levels of State pensions and myriad forms of support during the last decade, with the knock‑on effect of lowering the number of distressed widows and Brethren on our list, has provided the impetus for widening the concept of care beyond the erstwhile objective of mere cash support.
To have been content with the scenario of decreasing financial need, and thus the concomitant diluted emphasis on charitable contributions at source, would have been a serious dereliction of our brief.
Instead we have rightly set about the task of supporting those vulnerable members of our Masonic family in ways which should gradually make their lives more inclusive and pleasant. As a precursor to this challenge we have initiated a Register of Widows throughout Ireland. To date, about 50% of Lodges have responded with the required information and, as a result, approximately 3,000 widows will receive a Greetings Card bearing our new slogan, "Always Caring, Always Sharing", together with some security advice and, fittingly, a message from our administrative staff, Janice Griffin and Rosemary Black, encouraging contact with their late husband's Lodge, should widows have concerns about help or advice.
"Being remembered" is a much‑quoted expression of appreciation given by Lodge widows on the Almoner's visit and often more valuable to them than any monetary or other gift at Christmas. The new Greeting Card will support that spirit of inclusion in the wider Brotherhood of Irish Freemasonry.
A test‑marketing phase to install smoke detectors as a Pilot Scheme will be undertaken in the Province of Armagh which has jurisdiction North and South. Following evaluation of this first step, it is hoped to extend the scheme to all parts of Ireland later in the year.
After the dark days when we hovered on the brink of serious financial difficulties, and uncertainty about having the means to fulfill our obligations in the aftermath of the Foot‑and‑Mouth epidemic, we have emerged in surplus for two successive years, aided by the Grand Master's Millennium Appeal and the decreased number of Annuities. However, we cannot afford to be complacent for the following reasons:
The number of Annuitants has just dipped below 600 after dropping from 834 (1998) to 670 (2002). As previously stated, this figure is bound to rise following the introduction of revised Bands for Annuities in January. Hopefully, Lodge Almoners will find the revised Review Forms more "user‑friendly", especially with rent and rates (ICI.) together with certain medical expenses (Republic) being considered as the only common items of expenditure.
Our new Honorary Treasurer, Brother Arnold Smith, has assumed his new office with great energy and interest and will, undoubtedly, prove a worthy successor to Brother Cecil Taylor in the meticulous management of our funds.
We were pleased to welcome back our Secretary, Brother Michael McWilliam, in March following his enforced 3 months absence due to serious illness. Typical of Michael in his dedication to duty that when he was under strict instructions to "phase himself in" gradually, with only half‑time daily, at first, he could be found at his desk at the ridiculous hour (by Irish standards), of 7 a.m.! I have found him very supportive and encouraging since I assumed the role of Deputy Chairman.
The Implementation Committee, under the Chairmanship of Brother Bill Shortland, has been busy preparing for this new approach to caring. I would like to congratulate him on the manner in which he spearheaded that Committee's deliberations, with vision, enthusiasm and unstinting commitment.
Our office staff, Janice Griffin (Dublin) and Rosemary Black (Belfast) gave us invaluable support in all the miscellaneous tasks required to make our system of support for the most needy as efficient as possible. The Dublin office has now been refurbished to provide a pleasant working environment, linked to its Belfast counterpart at The Mount. I consider it very important that staff who work in such premises should enjoy the commonly‑accepted standards of health and safety as an added stimulus to their work. On behalf of the V.J. Board, I would like to thank the Finance Committee for giving priority to this phase of improvements throughout the building.
We are forging stronger links with the Brethren who represent the B.M.W.F. and the B.M.C.F. and our Joint Charity meetings with them have resulted in positive, open and friendly discussions. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that, for the first time, the accounts of both Belfast Charitable Bodies have been included in this year's booklet of the Reports and Financial Statements for the past financial year.
I had hoped to report some outcome of the M.B.I. submission to Grand Lodge made over a year ago, but to date, there has been no response / reaction to the various suggestions aimed at enhancing the focus on Charity.
I thank the hard‑working, enthusiastic members of the V.J. Board who have placed their confidence in me. I am very conscious of the reputation of distinguished predecessors and particularly, our immediate Past Deputy Chairman, Brother Trevor Morrow, whose many qualities I have admired during the 5 years I have served under him. Indeed Trevor's truly inspirational role, engaging skills and experience honed to perfection in several spheres of his professional life, gave "added value" to the office, displaying his tenacity, attention to detail, positive outlook, courtesy and ever genial personality. On behalf of the V.J. Board I wish to place on record our gratitude to this outstanding Freemason for his contribution to the Office, often in difficult times, over the past 5 years, and hope that he enjoys a long, well‑earned retirement.