The London Free Press
Intrepid columnist exposes mysterious Mason handshake
Ian Gillespie, Free Press Columnist
He seems like a really good guy. And he did show me the secret handshake. So maybe the conspiracy theorists are wrong.
Maybe the Freemasons aren't really an elite group of bankers, religious leaders, politicians and businessmen who secretly pull the strings of puppet governments around the world and seek to rule the world with an iron fist.
Maybe the Grand Master of Ontario's 60,000 Freemasons is telling the truth.
"We're not a cult," says Don Mumby. "We're not devil worshippers. And it isn't a great big bunch of mumbo jumbo."
I believe him. But some don't.
Yesterday, I sat down with Mumby during his visit to London, which is home to about 3,300 Mason members. Mumby, who lives near Ottawa, is a retired chief superintendent with the RCMP. He served with the RCMP for 35 years -- and that influence is immediately apparent in his manner and bearing. He's the kind of man I instinctively call "sir" and, when shaking hands, squeeze as hard as I can.
More about that handshake later.
Mumby has been a Mason since 1975. And three months ago, he was elected as Ontario's Grand Master. Yesterday, he visited London to officially pass along a three-year $105,000 donation to UWO's professor Richard Seewald for his work with hearing-impaired infants.
Giving out money is a big part of what the Masons do.
Since 1979, the Masons of London's East and West districts have contributed more than $425,000 to a long list of local agencies, including Merrymount Children's Centre, Women's Community House and the AIDS Committee of London.
According to Mumby (and believe me, this number is so astonishing, I asked him three times to confirm it), the Masons spend $1.75 million US on charities in North America every day.
There have been many famous -- and infamous -- Masons over the years, including Mozart, Henry Ford, Ty Cobb, Nat King Cole, Clark Gable, Peter Sellers, George Wallace and John Glenn.
Mumby says every Ontario premier up to and including Bill Davis was a Mason. And seven prime ministers have also belonged to the fraternal group.
But whisper "Mason" or "Freemason" to most people, and you instantly invoke a whiff of mystery. Because for centuries, the Masons have been linked to power and secrecy.
And that's part of Mumby's stated goal as Ontario's new Grand Master -- to improve public understanding of the Masonic Order.
"I would do anything to do away with the myths that surround us," he says. "If we were a secret organization, I wouldn't be talking to you."
OK, then. What are the Masons?
"We are a group of good, honest, upstanding men who try to improve ourselves," says Mumby. "We believe very strongly in the concept of honesty. We believe in the concept of brotherly love.
We believe in such old-fashioned ideals as duty, integrity, faithfulness, loyalty and patriotism.
"Masonry is a very moral organization," says Mumby. "But we don't pass moral judgments on anybody else."
Mumby says the Masons peaked in Ontario in 1950, when the group boasted about 150,000 members -- many of them Second World War veterans seeking the kind of brotherhood they'd found in the military. Now however, the Masons are quite literally dying off. Mumby says the average Ontario Mason is in his 60s, and about 1,900 members die every year.
Over the years, some have accused the Masons of being a bigoted group of WASPS. Mumby denies the charge.
"Every Mason has to profess a belief in a Supreme Being," he says. "But we do not say what that Supreme Being is. Therefore we don't exclude any religions. Everybody is welcome."
Mumby admits ritual plays a big part in Mason meetings. And he admits Masons have invited suspicion because they've been too secretive.
So I grab the opportunity and ask him to show me the "secret" Mason handshake. And he does.
When giving the special handshake, a Mason -- drum roll please -- presses on one of the other man's knuckles with his thumb. Which knuckle he presses indicates what degree or stage of development that Mason has attained.
I didn't ask Mumby, though, about those crazy theories linking Masons to the John F. Kennedy assassination. I figured learning the secret handshake was enough for one day.