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Issue: Friendship

By Drea Muldavin-Roemer

ROADS TO MASONRY

A CHILDHOOD SPENT IN DEMOLAY LED TO ENDURING MASONIC FRIENDSHIPS

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It was the late 1970s when Brett Welch, Garrett Chan, and Albert Lawson’s paths crossed for the first time. As officers for the Pacific Division of the Northern California Order of DeMolay, the three young men were on the road together several nights a week, traveling hundreds of miles to visit chapters throughout the region. 

They organized athletic tournaments, charity projects, and large-scale conventions. Each had joined DeMolay in their teens, but it wasn’t until this leadership year that they formed truly unbreakable bonds. “Ours was an experience that you would never get in student body government,” says Welch. “We realized we were part of something special.”

ON THE LEVEL

Masonry was always part of Welch’s life. His grandfather was a Freemason, and as young as age 5, Welch would tag along with him for various events. “In 1965, I was hanging out with Shriners,” he laughs. He recalls his grandfather taking him to the San Jose Scottish Rite father and son banquets, where men were dressed in suits, ties, and pillbox hats. “As one of the youngest guys, I would sit quietly as my grandfather and the brothers would chew the fat,” he says.

One evening, on their way home, his grandfather told him that while one Mason was president of the downtown Bank of America, another had just earned his plumber’s license. “That was my first lesson in the universality of Freemasons,” Welch says. “On those nights, at those tables, everyone was on the level.” Inspired by this example, Welch joined the Masonic youth order of DeMolay in Los Gatos in 1974.

Chan also grew up in the world of Masonry; his father and grandfather were both members of the fraternity. He joined DeMolay at 13 and in the summer of 1977, he attended DeMolay leadership camp. Soon afterwards, he got involved in Northern California DeMolay events where he soon met Welch as well as Lawson, who had been introduced to DeMolay through a friend.

In 1980, when Welch was installed as master councilor of the Pacific Division, Chan was appointed as scribe and Lawson was elected to the office of junior councilor. It was the beginning of their shared Masonic journey.

FRIENDS, THEN BROTHERS

Though all three young men were connected through their shared Masonic values, they likely would not have connected, had they not served together as chapter leaders. “The three of us grew up in working-class families, two of us without dads. Garrett lived in San Francisco’s Richmond District, Albert grew up in the San Mateo suburbs, and I was from Campbell – where at the time there were still orchards and fruit stands,” recalls Welch. “Our families were ethnically different: one Chinese, one black, and myself a mutt raised with Italian family from the old country.”

“We had our own circles of friends, and we were from different backgrounds,” Chan says. “But when we were a corps, we went out with a purpose… We had a mutual respect. We learned a lot about each other that year.”

Lawson, too, recalls that year of traveling through Northern California with Welch and Chan as one of transformational camaraderie. “We shared so many experiences as young men growing up; they just stuck,” he says.

MASONS AND MEN

On his 21st birthday – then the minimum age – Welch petitioned for membership in Freemasonry. It’s a decision he still reflects upon with pride. “The values that Freemasonry stands for today are still as vibrant as they were when I was 21 years old,” he says. In 1996, he served as master of Lebanon-Pacific Lodge No. 136 in San Francisco (now Pacific-Starr King Lodge No. 136) and he is currently senior warden of South Valley Lodge No. 187 in Morgan Hill. “Masonry draws men together who are looking for a way of belonging to the family of man,” says Welch. “If you boil it all down, each of us just has a comfort that we can hang out with guys who feel the same way.”

Chan, who was initiated three years later, was master of Pacific-Starr King Lodge No. 136 in 1992. Since then, he has led and served on a number of Grand Lodge boards and committees. He was installed as grand bible bearer for Most Worshipful Wright in October.

The road to Masonry was a bit different for Lawson, who sometimes felt like an outsider as one of the few black men in DeMolay at the time. When he was 20, a Mason told him that if he applied for membership in the fraternity, he might be blackballed due to his race. Still, heartened by his early experiences with his friends in DeMolay, he persisted. With Welch’s encouragement, he petitioned for membership at Lebanon Pacific Lodge, where he was initiated at age 35. He still remembers becoming a Master Mason as an incredibly special moment, and his commitment continues to this day. In 2002 he affiliated with Naval Lodge No. 87, where he served as master in 2007. He was recognized with the Hiram Award in 2011.

ENDURING FRIENDSHIPS

Though the three friends are not able spend as much time together as they would like these days, whenever they meet, it is as if no time has passed. “Since a young age, our shared experiences in DeMolay and in Masonry have kept us together,” Lawson says. He senses a deep feeling of connection – a shared understanding that no matter what else is happening in their lives, they share a past and a way of life.

Their families are also “officially” connected: Welch married Chan’s sister, making the two men brothers-in-law. Lawson officiated the wedding and later became the godfather to Welch’s son. “Today nothing has changed,” Welch says, “only now our welds are stronger, as they have been refitted and some links reforged, as life tends to do.”

DeMolay and Masonry solidified a lasting connection, starting when they were teenagers traveling all of those miles together. Now, regardless of the miles between them, they can gather around a shared meal at any time and pick up exactly where they left off. “In Freemasonry, we can put all the baggage behind us,” Welch says, “and for a couple of hours sit around the table as brothers.”

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Jenny Pfeiffer

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