Attracted To Freemasonry
Michael A. Porada, 32°
Valley of Tucson
The fraternity of Freemasonry just a few years ago was blessed to have attracted the attention of John Robinson, who not only wrote three books on the craft itself but was also willing to be a staunch advocate of Masonry. He traveled and spoke for and about Freemasonry not only to its modern day opponents, but especially to the nom-informed and to the Masonic community.
While John J. Robinson may have departed from his earthly life in September, 1993, his spirit and message are literally still in our very midst today! I recently had the opportunity and privilege to interview his widow, Bernice Robinson, who most graciously agreed to sit down and discuss John's Masonic Journey through his unique perspective.
"John's approach to researching Born in Blood (his first book) was in business research," Bernice said. "He investigated and assembled a the pertinent facts, then let them lead him to a logical conclusion, rather than forming a theory, selecting solely the facts which would support such a theory and ignoring the rest."
His research, started in the early 1980s, led him to conclude that the Knights Templar had to go underground early in the 14th century to avoid torture and death. He also concluded that this underground organization was, some 70 years later, the guiding force behind the Peasants' Revolt in England. Other independent research into the mysteries of Masonic origins began to connect with his theory that had evolved concerning the fate of the Templars-on-the-run. "By 1985, John had decided that he had accrued enough material to produce a fascinating book," according to Bernice.
Two years later, John Robinson did submit what he thought was a complete manuscript to the well known Alfred Knopf book publishing house. "The editor assigned to work with John told him that there had always been a strong interest in Masonry by the general public, and to add a section about Freemasonry spanning the period from the Middle Ages to the present day. John was told that his book would appeal to a much wider readership if it dealt with Freemasonry in greater depth. Although it's possible that the editor might have expected John to uncover harmful facts about the craft, it didn't work out that way."
Although Knopf was unable to publish the final manuscript, they did refer John to other publishers who would be in the position to help. "M. Evans and Company was the first of the publishers John had been referred to that responded," Bernice recalled. "George deKay, the President and owner, said that he had read the manuscript and was ready to publish it," she added.
In Masonic circles, Born in Blood met with mixed reviews and reactions from historians and researchers, but gradually John's theory gained acceptance.
Perhaps most important was the acknowledgment of Allen Roberts, Executive Secretary of the Philalethes Society. "Early in 1990, John was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Society for his service to the cause of Freemasonry in general," Bernice recalled. "He was touched by this recognition of his work's value — he and Allen developed a Friendship that was based on mutual admiration and respect."
After the publication, John Robinson began to receive requests to speak about his research, his initial engagement at the Scottish Rite Valley of Cincinnati. "John admitted to being nervous over how his presentation would be received," Bernice said. Fortunately, his ability to communicate in a clear, straight forward way met with a warm and lively response from his audience. When he came home he was relieved and happy. I had not seen such a sparkle in his eye for a long time."
The success of his first occasion helped set a general pattern for future appearances in that John would speak for about 30 minutes with the remaining time taking questions, so that other ideas could develop.
In the succeeding two years, John Robinson finished two more books, Dungeon, Fire and Sword and A Pilgrim's Path, while carrying out a very busy schedule of speaking engagements, both to Masonic forums and on radio and television. These engagements involved hundreds of thousands of miles of travel throughout the United States and Europe.
As he was then not a Mason, he had a very high degree of credibility when defending Masonry to the various latter-day accusers of the craft. He drew the attention of many talk show hosts who looked for (and thrived on) controversial subjects. Bernice accompanied him whenever possible.
"John never knew a stranger," she stated. "He showed the same respect and friendliness to everyone he met from whatever walk of life. He was always ready to fit in an extra meeting or impromptu discussion, and never sought to impress listeners with his erudition or importance. After a few formal presentations, he was always delighted to stay around, signing books, and answering questions and visiting with people. Frequently, he would get to bed well after midnight only to be up again after a few hours rest to fit in more unscheduled meetings before it was time to leave. No matter how tired he was, he found the energy to meet people, because he sincerely loved what he was doing. As a wife, I enjoyed seeing him receive a standing ovation, because I felt he deserved it."
In 1992, John made his decision to affirm his commitment to Freemasonry. "John petitioned Nova Caesarea Harmony Lodge No. 2 for two reasons," Bernice added. "As this is Ohio's oldest lodge, he was attracted to the historical aspect. In addition, he had a personal association, dating back to his childhood, with lodge member (and Past Master) Cleve Cornelison, which was renewed when John first established Masonic connections."
John was made an Entered Apprentice November 25, 1992. "It was a night that gave him deep satisfaction," Bernice related. Unfortunately, his active life as a Mason was cut short immediately.
Over the years, John had successfully overcome a number of serious health problems; so a severe sore throat that was troubling him at the time he became a Mason seemed nothing more than a mild infection. However, the day after Thanksgiving, the throat became very painful. Within 48 hours his blood stream had been invaded by a strep infection which caused life-threatening blood poisoning. He waged a month long battle in intensive care, unable to move or speak very much at all. Bernice recalled, "I think I was the only person in the entire hospital who believed that John would survive during the first 72 hours."
In all the years of the existence of the Grand Lodge of Ohio there had been only two men made Master Masons at sight: President William Howard Taft and U.S. Senator John Glenn. Brother Robinson, however, had already received his first degree, so there was no thought given to making him a Mason at sight.
Bernice remembers the initial phone call that came from Allen Roberts, who had just learned that John's life was in danger. "Allen felt that it would be a shame if this man who had done so much for Freemasonry were to die without becoming a Master Mason."
Ohio Grand Master H. Ray Evans called an emergent session of the Grand Lodge and N.C. Harmony Lodge No. 2 at the Shriner's Burn Institute, across the street from where John lay in intensive care. On December 3, 1992, the Grand Master conferred upon John the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees.
"Afterward, I had the distinct impression that John had 'turned the corner,' even though he could only squeeze my hand to show that he knew what had occurred." On New Year's Eve, he left intensive care and returned home weeks later.
John Robinson returned to sufficient health to be able to receive the Scottish Rite degrees in the Valley of Cincinnati in April 1993. Bernice remembered, "He attended the final banquet in a wheelchair, but the importance of the occasion, and brotherly support he received gave his spirits a tremendous boost. It was just what he needed at that time." Although elected to receive the 33° of the Ancient Scottish Rite at Cleveland, Ohio, in September 1994, John's decline in health made it necessary to confer this honor on him in Cincinnati, with newly elected Sovereign Grand Commander Robert O. Ralston, 33°, and Ohio Scottish Rite Deputy Alfred E. Rice, 33°, present on September 3, 1993, just three days prior to his death.
"Al Rice especially wanted him to receive it and didn't want to risk any contingency," Bernice said, "The one thing I as a wife who loved John very much, want to add is that I am deeply honored that he was chosen to receive the 33° in the Scottish Rite, and that it was conferred upon him while he was still here."
It was John Robinson's third book, A Pilgrim's Path, which perhaps can best summarize his research and conclusions on Masonry. The first half of the book deals with the various condemnations of Masonry from past to present, and point by point dismantles the various claims.
"You would really say that the second half of the book suggests practical methods and ideas for the growth of Freemasonry," she continued. "John was concerned by the vast numbers of people, especially young people, who know nothing about Freemasonry. I believe he still wants to present the wholesome, positive image of Masonry, to counter the effect of the attacks of the religious extremists and other negative sources. Through his books, and the newly formed Masonic Information Center, I feel sure he can help to assure that."
Asked what reward Freemasonry gave to such an individual as John Robinson, who through his research and writing found himself traveling and speaking out for the craft, Bernice Robinson concluded that "John rarely put his innermost feelings into words, but I truly believe that Freemasonry gave him an inner serenity through helping him find his own path to God."