R W Bro Rex Thorne Past Metropolitan Grand Master 1927 to 2020
W Bro Peter Walker SLGR remembers
Rex Francis Thorne was born on 6th June 1927 in Lewisham, the son of Albert Frank Thorne and his wife Constance (née Francis).
His father was a telephone engineer working for Siemens, one of the big five British telephone manufacturers at that time.
Rex grew up in south-east London and at the age of 11 went to Sevenoaks School as a boarder.
After the war Bertie (as Rex’s father was always known) returned to Siemens and was soon initiated into Woolwich Polytechnic Lodge No 3578 and in 1950, he followed a work colleague, Charles Borne, in becoming a Joining Member of Telephone Lodge No 3301.
In 1955, Bertie proposed his son Rex to be initiated into Telephone Lodge, the seconder being W Bro Lester Jones. Thus, Bro Rex was initiated into Telephone Lodge on 15th January 1955, recorded as a telephone engineer working for STC and living in Blackheath. As Bertie was only a Master Mason, he was not able to initiate his son; this fell to W Bro Pardoe, the Immediate Past Master.
Bro Rex moved from STC to Siemens Brothers and subsequently held many different roles in the industry. He held several directorships with various companies including Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., ITT Business Systems UK, EMI Industrial Electronics Ltd., Brandenburg Limited, Astec BSR plc, Marcom Communications Ltd., and Scotty Group Europe Ltd. He was Chairman of APC Technology Group plc, Motion Media and Business Telephone Systems.
Bro Rex quickly engaged in Lodge activities and with his father Bertie, provided a second photograph album of the Masters to celebrate the Lodge’s 50th anniversary in 1958. The same year, Bro Rex was appointed as a Steward and two years later he became Inner Guard, after which he made the usual progression, being installed as Worshipful Master in 1965. It was then that he became heavily involved as one of the Founders of Fleet River Lodge No 8107. This was consecrated in 1966 and Bro Rex became its first Treasurer for two years, and afterwards Worshipful Master for two years. He was Master for a second time in 1992.
Shortly afterwards it was realised that the Lodge’s Centenary in 2008 was fast approaching and the wise decision was made that Bro Rex should once again be in the chair for this auspicious year. He planned the Centenary with great skill and at considerable personal expense. Under his guidance and support the Lodge history, that he himself had updated for the 75th anniversary in 1983, was revised. Delegations from both Metropolitan Grand Lodge and United Grand Lodge of England attended the Centenary Meeting; it was a truly memorable occasion. He will also be remembered for the excellence of his ritual and for many years he held a virtual monopoly of delivering the Traditional History for the Lodge.
Bro Rex’s masonic story does not of course rest solely with Telephone and Fleet River Lodges. A turning point in his masonic career came in 1976 when he was invited to join Globe Lodge No 23, one of the 19 famous Red Apron lodges that have the right to nominate Grand Stewards.
In 1983, he married Sophie Poulain and Sophie’s support for Rex’s activities was notable. Meanwhile he steadily advanced through the offices at Globe and was nominated Grand Steward joining Grand Steward’s Lodge in 1984 – the Lodge with no number as it stands at the top of the list of all Lodges.
In 1985, he was appointed Assistant Grand Standard Bearer. In 1987 Rex was honoured, being appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his role as Chairman of the Radio-Paging Association and other contributions to the telecommunications industry.
When Lord Northampton became Assistant Grand Master in 1995, he realised that London needed a more professional and focused administrative team than was provided by the then ‘direct rule’ from Grand Lodge. Accordingly, he created ‘London Management’ in 1997 and appointed Rex to it. The aim was to develop an organisation to look after 1,585 active Lodges, some 50,000 masons and the Royal Arch in London. After a lot of hard work on this in 2001, Bro Rex was promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden.
It was not all plain sailing however, as many were fearful of change, citing extra costs of more management, while others worried about the future of the London Grand Rank Association which had always sought to be the ‘voice of London masons’. Yet others were concerned that London’s unique honours system would change. But in the end, it worked out fine and Metropolitan Grand Lodge was formed in 2003. Lord Millett was appointed as the first Metropolitan Grand Master with Rex taking the unique role of Past Metropolitan Grand Master and playing a key role as Chairman of the Trustees the Metropolitan Masonic Charity.
Bro Rex had a second home in France and due to its proximity Rex joined the Port of Hercules Lodge No 4626 in Monaco, the sole UGLE Lodge in the Principality. He became its Master in 2005 and subsequently its Chaplain. In an obvious move, UGLE appointed Rex to represent UGLE in the negotiations to set up an independent sovereign Grand Lodge of Monaco, which finally took place in 2011, with Port of Hercules becoming their Lodge No 2. Rex, savvy as ever, persuaded several Port of Hercules members to become joining members of Telephone Lodge, thereby enabling them to maintain their membership of a UGLE Lodge with all the visiting rights that brought. It also brought a welcome boost to Lodge numbers and maintained its reputation as a cosmopolitan Lodge.
Rex was also an active member of the Royal Arch and the Mark Master Masons. In the Royal Arch he attained Past Grand Scribe Nehemiah in 2001 and Past Metropolitan Grand Superintendent in 2003. In the Mark he reached the rank of Past Grand Senior Overseer. In Royal Ark Mariner Masonry, he was a holder of Provincial Royal Ark Mariner Grand Rank. It is also noteworthy that Rex’s cousin, Colonel Sir Neil Thorne OBE TD DL, has also been an eminent Freemason, rising to become Provincial Grand Master of Essex.
On the 60th anniversary of his initiation it was said in his mother lodge “On behalf of the brethren of the Lodge, I would like to present you with this gift of a vintage Bakelite telephone as a mark of the respect and affection with which you are held by your brethren. Despite the many high offices, you have held during your 60 years membership, you have remained committed to your Mother Lodge and your contribution and wise counsel have been appreciated by all.”
Bro Rex truly ‘lived respected and died regretted’.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 41 July 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 41.