Dr. Stanley C. Aston, OBE, TD, DL, etc. (1915 - 1992)
Provincial Grand Master 1979 - 1989
Extract from "Cambridgeshire Encompassed"
by kind permission of W.Bro. Jim Whitehead
Although a figure of International reputation, not just academic but for his work in UNESCO, Dr Aston was not as widely known in the Masonic Province as one might have expected and he knew this. Although forty-three years a Cambridgeshire Mason by the time he made his first 'Official' Provincial visit as Deputy to Wisbech, he was surprised and pleased when the brother proposing his toast told the Brethren that Dr Aston would probably be all right, since he was born in Lincolnshire and so had at least one webbed foot! He was, at the time, linked less with INUL, his mother Lodge, than with Alma Mater and his great efforts for the latter, lifting it from a semi-moribund state to its present vigour, are seldom fully realised or appreciated. Many Brethren did not know he had been active on the Masonic Hall Committee in Cambridge during the late sixties, leading to the purchase of our present home. He was co-opted to assist with his wide experience of managing property and funds in the University, and he had time to make a significant contribution. However, when the Committee decided to bid for Cheshunt College in competition with the University, Dr Aston felt that a possible conflict of interest required that he give up his involvement and he resigned from the group. He was a staunch Methodist, in the true Wesleyan tradition of considering himself still 'a member of the Church of England'. Apart from his war service in the Army, his entire life had been involved with the University. He achieved great distinct-ion in both the academic and the sporting side of University life.
Born in Lincoln he went directly from the City School, where he was Head Boy, to St. Catharine's on an Open Scholarship in 1934. He remained there until the war, being College Prizeman in 1937 and being elected Bye-fellow at Magdalene in 1938 after taking a starred First in French and Spanish. In March the following year he was elected to the University Allen Scholarship but September saw him enlisting as a Private soldier in the Suffolk Regiment. He was commissioned in the spring of 1940 and dashed home in uniform to marry Molly in October. Transferred to the Royal Marines Special Forces, he did Commando training and finished up in War Office Intelligence having been in some very odd places, at times arriving by parachute. After the war his great relaxation was the TA, and he was closely involved with the Cambridgeshires and Royal Anglian Regiment TA until 1980, eventually being honorary Colonel. His dress uniform and sword are displayed in the Anglian Regiment museum. He was a Deputy Lieutenant for Cambridgeshire from 1959 onwards and his OBE came in 1973. He retired in 1982 as a full Colonel, with the Territorial Decoration and two bars, having put in over forty years voluntary commissioned service.
The Magdalene fellowship ended in 1943 while Dr Aston was still in the army and he was elected a fellow of St. Catharine's, acting as Dean from 1946 to 1951, then Tutor for two years. As Dean he was known for the unusual and devastatingly appropriate penalties (inflicted and received with the greatest good humour) which he devised for the rule breakers. He found his metier as Bursar, an important and demanding post which he held from 1961 to 79. He gave yeoman service and the College was deeply grateful for the skill and assiduity with which he managed its concerns. To this day the new block in Grange Road, which he planned and for which he found the funding, is known colloquially as 'Aston Villa'. He was made President in 1980. Not only was he an active and popular lecturer within the University, but twice spent a year as visiting Professor at Ohio State University. Few academics can boast a more far ranging series of visiting lectureships than Dr. Aston. They included American Universities by the dozen, from New Mexico to Michigan; Tokyo University in 1961; Mexico; Paris; Bucharest; Strasbourg; the Chinese Academy; Bordeaux and Clermont (twice, where he was awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causa) and Universities in Australia, Pakistan, India, Thailand, New Zealand and Canada. A key figure in the Modern Humanities Research Association, he spent five years as Secretary and eighteen as Chairman, before becoming President in 1970. UNESCO found his services invaluable in the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Sciences from 1952. He was vice President for four years and President from 1979 to 1984.
In accepting office as Deputy, Dr Aston was fully aware of what was expected of him and, as with everything else he tackled, he gave it his full attention, especially after his retirement as College Bursar. For the first time an incoming PGM specified for how long he was willing to serve. He promised the Province ten years and, in that time, he put into place a planned development that left a sense of unity and purpose that has remained as his memorial. Perhaps the problems of the Masonic Hall were making Cambridge Lodges a little introverted, but there seems no doubt that a division had been creeping in to some extent, so that our brethren in the north of the Province were beginning to feel separate from, perhaps neglected by, the brethren in Cambridge and the South. Old ties were perhaps weakening. By indefatigable visiting, very careful thought over his Provincial appointments, firm instructions to his officers and personal example the new PGM soon dispersed any such suggestion. He held a particular affection for the Fen country and the North of our Province. He soon knew everybody and everybody knew him. If he couldn't attend a Lodge or Chapter at least once in the year he considered himself failing in duty and at the very least he would have one of his officers report on the work, on who did what and how, and on the results of pro-positions and business. Everything he learned he recorded.
Dr Aston's Installation, 18th December 1979, was at the Guildhall as had now become customary and was conducted by the Pro Grand Master, the Earl Cadogan. W.Bro. R.L.R. Bentley, from March, was appointed Deputy. Having had two years to make his mark, Dr. Aston was already a well-known visitor throughout the Province and had begun to think out the strategy which would make substantial difference to our way of conducting the affairs of the Province. I believe he saw improved administration and closer Provincial ties as one major factor to be addressed and the efficient and vigorous operation of Masonic Charity as another.
On the subject of Charity Dr Aston was just as persistent and encouraging as any of our PGMs but in his case he wished to carry it further. On the one hand he was keen to see Masonic giving extending beyond the immediate Masonic Charities and on the other, being well aware of the importance of the wife's role in a Brother's Masonry, he was anxious to involve the ladies in our work. In Charity outside the Masonic fold, there are two major items which stand to his credit. The establishment of a Chair of Gerontology at the University of Cambridge was facilitated by a grant of quarter of a million pounds from the Grand Charity, a fact too little realised in the Province. Dr Aston was the prime mover and the go-between linking University and Great Queen Street. He mentioned it for the first time in public at the Provincial meeting of 1985 but the negotiations, long and complex, had been afoot for a considerable time before that. Fortunately Dr Aston kept detailed records and the file on the Chair of Gerontology is in my possession, being one of the few of his personal files that he did not specifically request be destroyed, but asked me to keep. In the 1986 Provincial meeting the PGM was able to make a firm announcement:
'As you know, at its quarterly meeting last December the Grand Charity formally endorsed a grant of k250,000 towards the cost of the endowment of a Chair of Gerontology in the University of Cambridge. That grant was the catalyst for other contributions and I am pleased to tell you that last Friday, 13th June, a Grace for the establishment of the Chair from January 1st 1987 was passed by the University. In the official report to the University, formal acknowledgement was made of the gift (and I quote) 'from the Grand Charity of Freemasons of the United Grand Lodge of England, in conjunction with the Masonic Province of Cambridgeshire' I am proud that our own participation is thus both publicly and permanently recorded, both for the present outside world and for posterity, in the official annals of the University.'
At the same meeting, the gift of L1,000 to the Ely Cathedral Restoration Trust was announced from the Province and the Grand Charity provided a further L5,000 for the Province to hand over as well. At least those gifts did produce, for a group of the principal Provincial Officers, a tour of the work in progress, under the personal guidance of the Dean, Bill Patterson.
1986 saw another important development in the area of Provincial Charity. The Masonic Hall Company in Cambridge had survived the huge overdraft and mortgage. In spite of the terrifying surge in interest rates in the seventies it was, thanks to efficient management, coming through into profitability. The partners (INUL Trustees and the Cambridge Masonic Hall Company, representing all the City Lodges) could see that money might now be taken out of the venture. They therefore established the City and University of Cambridge Masonic Charitable Trust. This Trust takes an agreed sum (the same on behalf of each partner) from the business each year. After careful investment, it then distributes funds to Charity, roughly equally Masonic and non-Masonic, with a strong preference for local Charities in the latter category. Their gifts can be now be seen recorded in the Year Book, where an account of income and disbursements is given annually.
Lack of public acknowledgement of Masonic generosity was sometimes a sore point with Dr Aston. Though not inclined to expect or to want fulsome praise or thanks for our giving, he certainly believed that if a charity accepted our help the least they could do was acknowledge it openly. This was particularly shown in his appeal for the Children's Hospice which also illustrated his concern to involve the wives and families of the Brethren. The decision to follow the example of Oxford (not for the first time, Oxford men would say) and establish a Children's Hospice in Cambridge was one which appealed strongly to all of a sympathetic mind. The Hospice founders wanted a huge capital sum of a million pounds to endow the project and Stanley Aston saw it as an ideal subject for our wider giving. A number of donations had already been made by individual Lodges when the PGM first broached the subject by announcing that the alms collected at his 1986 Provincial meeting would go to the Hospice. £308 was collected. The following year he launched his 'challenge'. The Benevolent Association had agreed that 1988 should be devoted to the Hospice and Canon Hugh Barker announced this shortly before the PGM's address at the 1987 Provincial meeting. Dr Aston then invited the Province to commit itself to raise £50,000 in a single year and make a really substantial donation to the Hospice appeal. Admitting that it was a steep task, he went on to suggest that the ladies be closely involved and he said he hoped the ladies would accept the task of raising £15,000 towards that total. Although he was ill, having undergone his first operation in the autumn of 1985, he made light of his illness, referring jokingly to the problems it caused and he issued his challenge with all of his customary vigour.
'I should like to raise £50,000 for the Hospice, and in one year. You will say it cannot be done. I say it can' he said. Later he went on 'I would like each Lodge to have a Ladies Committee to organise functions for the cause; I propose to hold Provincial parties and functions for the same purpose and have already been assured of backing from different areas of the Province. In short, we can all combine with our ladies in a great family effort for a great family cause and, in so doing, can cement and augment the close personal friendships which bind us as Masons and bring into our work and effort the ladies who stand behind us and are our support in the present climate of denigration and attack.'
Nobly was the challenge taken up. The Province became a whirl of coffee mornings, concerts, sales, barbecues ad nauseam and a grand firework display! One thing that Dr Aston insisted upon, however, was that the money raised should, in strict Masonic tradition, be our own money, not raised from the general public and he refused to permit a large open raffle that would have been extremely profitable. He considered it not in keeping with what we were about. Apart from that, considerable originality was shown. Shoots were arranged and offered. There was a sponsored balloon flight by a daring lady in the north of the Province. A determined fifty-eight year old Brother raised L930 from his surprised Brethren, who had cheerfully sponsored him in the Marathon without serious thought of having to pay out too much! As W.Bro. Ron Wilkinson reported at the Provincial meeting in 1989, the L50,000 target had been exceeded by the October and a new target of L75,000 had been set. That too was exceeded. At the end of the planned year — which was fun as well as fast and furious, well co-ordinated by W.Bro. Roy Abraham — the Benevolent Association was able to give Dr Aston a cheque for L100,000 to present to the Hospice. There was some, but surprisingly little good publicity from it, despite Dr Aston's endeavours. However, the Province did receive a small wooden plaque which is displayed at Freemasons' Hall, Cambridge.
When he first came to office, Dr Aston was closely involved with the settling-in period of Cornwallis Court. In 1979 he drew the attention of the Brethren to the report circulated about the new Home and its needs. Special meetings of the Benevolent Association had been held in Newmarket, March and Cambridge to give the Brethren full opportunity to hear about and discuss the necessary building work and the required financing to be done. Dr Aston hoped we could provide at least L75,000 and preferably L100,000 from our Benevolent Association collections for '79, '81 and '83. Whilst talking in these terms he was able, at the same meeting, to announce almost L21,000 for what was still the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls and to give W.Bro. Grout a cheque for L6,809 for furnishings and equipment for the proposed Library at Cornwallis Court, to be a memorial for the late Dr Nourse. That figure had been contributed by the Province (plus a contribution from a Royston Lodge) in less than three months. The following year a working committee under W.Bro. C.F. Kidman, then still Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, was set up to organise the formation of an 'Association of Friends' and to arrange for our Province to take responsibility for the permanent upkeep of what we came to consider as 'our' library.
1981 saw the official opening of the new RMBI home in Bury. It was to be the day after Provincial Grand Lodge, so there was no first hand news, but the Secretary was able to report on a visit made to the Home in December when the Association of Friends had been officially formed. Needless to say, the cost of the home had greatly exceeded estimated costs and Dr Aston again urged that we in turn exceed that promised L75,000. It was done. The Benevolent Association presented £100,000 to the RMBI for Cornwallis Court in 1984. By that time we had also contributed a further L3,000 towards an Ambulance. Dr Aston repeatedly reminded the Brethren that the need at the Home is continuous and that maintained interest and care are more import-ant in some ways than money. He urged Brethren to visit and to become regularly known to these older members of our extended Masonic family.
The PGM's ideas about reform and improvement in the administration of the Province also affected the 'Benevolence' side of our Freemasonry. Dr Aston pressed for the Almoner's report to become a regular feature in the work of the Lodge night and also argued that regular visiting of the sick and distressed was of the greatest importance. The new office of Charity Steward had already relieved the Almoner of a great burden but, recognising the strain regular visiting could place on an Almoner, the PGM was suggesting as early as 1981 that perhaps a particular Steward could be designated to assist with the visiting, thus freeing some of the Almoner's time for his other duties. In 1982 Dr Aston also set up a committee under the Deputy to make recommendations about the structure of the Committee of Benevolence. He encouraged the revision and acceptance of the new rules of the Benevolent Association in 1985 and oversaw the establishment of the Provincial Charity Fund which he first suggested in the 1982 address to the Provincial meeting. W.Bros. F.N. Matthews and R.J. Abraham carried the burden of labour over these important and modernising changes, circulating a report in November 1982, while Bro. Abraham reported in full at the Provincial meeting in June 1983 when the amended Association rules were put to the meeting and carried. It was a very appropriate time to review the structure because the Association held its hundredth birthday later that season, celebrating with a festival dinner in St. Catharine's College where the Assistant Grand Master was the guest of the Association.
The great tragedy which marred the Province's happy and successful work for charity under Dr Aston was the disaster of the Royal Masonic Hospital, at one time the 'Jewel in the Crown' of our Masonic Charities. It lost money heavily throughout the Seventies. It was thought the Bagnall report might help it to greater stability. With some pride Dr Aston announced as late as 1982 that the Hospital had been modernised and re-equipped at a staggering cost of L6,500,000, a figure that represented Monopoly Money in those days, more than a decade before the National Lottery got people used to dreaming Millions rather than Hundreds. The full sad story does not need re-telling here but, when a purchaser came forward this Province, led by Dr Aston who was very forthright in his conviction, discussed a possible sale in the fullest fashion and sent a unanimous 'Yes' vote to London with our representatives. The purchase price offered was very substantial and would have provided a New Samaritan Fund four times over. To almost tangible shock and dismay the sale was rejected at Grand Lodge in October 1984 by a totally unexpected lobby and the Drake Report became a major topic of table conversation; even if only from those who had not read it seeking clarification from those who had! In January and May, at the pretty desperate meetings of the Governors of the Hospital, every Lodge in the Province was represented. However, amidst recrimination, charge and counter charge, the Hospital slipped further and further into crushing debt while solutions were expected annually. In June 1985 Dr Aston had expected to give news of the Board of Management, but there was no news. A postal vote was promised. In 1986 he referred again to 'the sorry saga' of the Hospital, reporting that we were all somewhat disillusioned after the 'not altogether pleasant' AGM in January. His description of the meeting is something of an understatement. Dr Aston never saw a solution. The tale dragged on. We are all sadly aware that it is still unresolved. Anger would have rendered Dr Aston speechless, if speechlessness were possible to him. To return to the solely Provincial matters of local administration. The PGM had his usual strong opinions about a number of factors involved with the administration of the Province. Because it was small and had no Office or office staff he felt, he said, that the financing of the administration 'is being subsidised out of private pockets'. He wanted to see a professionally qualified Brother acting as Treasurer and holding post long enough to take sensible control. He pointed out that the Balance on the Provincial accounts for 1952 was about the same as it was in 1982, but on only one twelfth the turnover. The Provincial Treasurer, he said, should be a qualified working officer, which was agreed and put into practice the following year. He also announced in 1983 that he was setting up a PGM's Committee to look into the Administration and the possibility of installing a computer to facilitate the work of the Province. The committee, which included our present PGM, reported to the Provincial meeting of 1984. They strongly agreed with the idea of a computer, but it took a good long while before agreement was reached with our neighbours in Norfolk and Suffolk and a program was found which appeared to suit us all. One demonstrated at Freemasons' Hall, Bateman Street in 1986 was rejected as not suitable; in 1988 a delay was reported over program problems. At least, as the established 'working' Treasurer W.Bro. Ron Cook was able to report, the finances were sound enough to service the computer purchase. That was thanks to our Provincial Grand Master, said Bro. Cook, and quoted it as 'yet another example of the fore-sight he has shown in his leadership'. The computer was up and running by the following year. The Data Protection Act had required that all members be circulated for permission to record their details and the Treasurer reported in 1989 that throughout the entire membership there had been but one objection.
Dr Aston was very conscious of the steadily increasing average age of the members of the Province. He did a lot of collecting and collating of figures — all meaning extra work for the Provincial Grand Secretary. W.Bro. Mole retired, after one last year to see the new PGM established. W.Bro. Colin Kidman was appointed to replace him. A very pleasant social meeting at The Makings in Ely followed, in November '81, and a presentation was made to Cecil Mole. The results of Dr Aston's poring over the figures were given from 1982 onwards. Following a first short reference to it as a problem at that time, the following year saw some details given in the PGM's address. He had examined the ages of Initiates into three large Lodges over a period of fifty years and was able to show that the average age had increased by six to seven years and now stood at 44. Progress to the Chair took from nine to eighteen years and averaged, over the Province, thirteen years. 50 years ago, he pointed out, we had eleven Lodges and Brethren could expect Provincial honours, all being well, two years after leaving the Chair. Thirty years ago, with fifteen Lodges, the wait was four years and presently, with twenty three Lodges it was a seven year wait. Hence the age of Provincial Officers was also substantially higher. He returned to the subject in 1984 and pointed out that only because death had claimed two Past Masters and two others already held Provincial Rank had he been able to offer Provincial honours to all who were eligible that year. Apart from urging us to make it more attractive for younger men to join, he recommended that offices — particularly the senior offices of the Lodge and the Province, should not be occupied for long years by 'elder statesmen'. He stuck to his own advice, having already stipulated when he would be leaving office. He was also anxious, like several of his predecessors, to see large Lodges beget daughter Lodges in the hope of reducing the long road to the Chair. In that at least he was disappointed.
The last Administrative change of real significance to be introduced by Dr Aston was the circulation of a copy of the Year Book to every Brother in the Province. Realising the amount of interesting and useful information in the Year Book and seeing it as another unifying factor in the Province, he had urged the sale from his very start and, in 1981, was quoting the resulting increased print run of 1,100 against 400. He urged every Lodge to make a practice of presenting a copy to each new entrant, whether Initiate or Joining. In 1984 he rather tartly observed that not all Lodges had adopted the practice of presenting a Year Book to newly made Masons or Joining Members and went so far as to state that the Year Book and the By-Laws of the Lodge were more important to a new Brother than the book of Constitutions, which sometimes remained unopened! The following year he spoke warningly about a fall, rather than a continued rise, in the number of Year Books purchased. From then on his ideal was a 'free' general distribution. With the help of his new style 'Executive Team' this was finally achieved when the 1986 publication was distributed free to all Lodges. The plan had been announced earlier and notice given of a L1.00 increase in subs so that the basic cost of the production could be more equitably shared. In his Treasurer's Report of 1987 Ron Cook pointed out that the Provincial reserves had taken the strain and the full cost of the 1,700 copies had been borne by the Province, the dues increase only becoming collectable the next year. As well as a Year Book, Dr Aston was also very keen that basic information about the Royal Arch should be formally communicated to all Brethren. He had his Grand Scribe E, Tom Impey, draft a short pamphlet about the Royal Arch and its place as an integral part of Freemasonry. He then required all Lodges to adopt the practice of presenting a Year Book on Initiation and the RA pamphlet with a Master Mason's Grand Lodge Certificate. These days the former seems firmly established but the latter practice is still too often overlooked.
Dr Aston's pleasure in his Masonic work was sadly marred by the unreasonable and very slanted criticism which became prevalent in his decade. Conscious of the build up, Dr Aston devoted a considerable part of his address in 1984 to the matter. He was concerned that:
'recent attacks on Freemasonry which have occurred in the media . . . have since become the source of witch hunts in municipal councils and other public bodies'.
He expressed his outrage in no uncertain terms and went on:
'What positive answer do I give to the charges of secrecy and subversion and anti-religion? To the malevolent or the ill-intentioned I say nothing; but to the friendly enquirer I reply on something like the following lines.'
He proceeded to set out clearly what he saw as the best approach, and concluded that:
'to be a Freemason should be, in the eyes of the public, a guarantee of moral and social integrity and your own personal example should be the best defence of Freemasonry against attack.'
I still believe that last to be the most important guidance we have ever received on coping with antagonism.
Stanley Aston was particularly grieved that the Methodist Church, to which he was deeply but not uncritically devoted, should have so condemned Masonry in the report of 1985. The more-or-less retraction at the subsequent convention received far less publicity and had consequently less effect than the initial condemnation. Our PGM said that he did not resent just criticism, but he had been involved in the Grand Lodge reply to the attacks, prepared seven months ago, and considered that the reply had not been adequately considered. About the lack of scholarship employed to back the report, he exploded 'If an undergraduate had handed me that to mark as a critical essay he'd have got a gamma minus!' He said 'It is a poor heart and a poor society that cannot face and consider objectively adverse criticism' but the recent attacks had been so ill founded that he warned the Provincial meeting that their PGM's name was likely to appear in public correspondence! And it did. He also gave an interview for Radio Cambridgeshire as Provincial Grand Master.
In his very first Provincial address in 1979, Dr Aston had commented on Bishop Herbert's suggested 'Permissive Variation' in the old traditional Obligations, commending them strongly to his Lodges. He was aware that the archaic wording and the Penalties did give a genuine cause for concern to many within the Order as well as a handle for attack from without. He commented on the next occasion that eleven of his Lodges had adopted the 'Permissive Variations' and seven were considering them. All had not yet done so and would they please consider the matter forthwith! Fortunately for his relations with one or two of his Lodges, the Grand Lodge made the changes mandatory on 11th June 1986 and at this even the most 'traditional' of our Lodges accepted with a good grace. He thanked them for that.
The remorseless roll of time brought on anniversaries of all sorts during the ten years of Stanley Aston's service as PGM. As well as the Benevolent Association Centenary, he also helped to celebrate the Centenary of Etheldreda in November 1985, having his photograph taken in the Newmarket Lodgeroom to be printed in the Centenary book-let. The frontispiece is a photograph of the WM at the time, Geoff Brunning, who was to become Provincial Grand Sword Bearer in due time and kindly presented to the Province a superb Royal Artillery sabre to be used as a ceremonial sword. The Secretary, W.Bro. Frank Christopher, prepared a brief account of the Lodge which, with the paper given by W.Bro. E. Ennion on the occasion of the 75th, plus a number of photographs, formed the main part of the publication. The Festive board was ambitious. They tried to get as near as possible to the Consecration menu, but publishing both menus side by side revealed how different have become our eating habits! The 75th Anniversary of Cantabrigia followed in the following Spring, when Sidney Hopkins presented a paper on the history of the Lodge and the Oration from the Consecration was read. In June INUL decided to throw a party for its 125th. It is not an anniversary much considered in general, but 'any excuse for a party' has long been a University watchword and a celebratory meeting was followed by a champagne reception and buffet for guests and their ladies (who had been entertained to tea in Pembroke College while their men attended Lodge). The occasion attracted many distinguished 'old boys' of the Lodge as well as guests from all over the Province. In October the Lodge of Three Grand Principles held their 'Sesquicentennial', which was extremely hard to say after the sort of dinner they gave to their guests! The dining room at Bate-man Street was full to capacity for this celebration by the oldest strictly 'Cambridge' Lodge. It was a nice compliment to the Provincial Grand Secretary that he was invited to take the Chair for that year so that, very appropriately, Bro. Kidman was in the Chair for the 150th as his father was for the 100th. Towards the end of that same year, in November, Dr Aston celebrated his own fiftieth anniversary in Freemasonry. He didn't know it, but his mother Lodge was well prepared for him attending their meeting that night. When the PGM formally demanded admission in the customary fashion, there was no DC with Provincial procession to escort him. Instead he was greeted by a gruff and elderly Inner Guard and passed on to an equally elderly (though both still soldierly) Junior Deacon, who presented Dr Aston to be addressed by the WM. The same IG, Bill Kemsley, had received him and the same JD, Alec Thavenot, had escorted him round fifty years before. Although a trifle taken aback by his unorthodox reception, Dr Aston soon realised that it was well and affectionately meant and gracefully accepted an engraved silver Armada Dish as a memento of the occasion.
Although denied the pleasure and privilege of Consecrating a new lodge in his Province, Dr Aston did manage to Consecrate the Chapter of Kynaston in March 1989. He was a sick man then and deeply distressed that his normal military bearing and brisk walk was destroyed by his weakness and pain and by the physical damage to his knee. He refused to use a stick, but eventually accepted that it would not demean the ceremony to have the Deputy Grand Superintendent (a newly created post first held by E.Comp. Tom Impey) walk backwards ahead of him carrying the different containers he had to use during the Consecration. His legacy to Kynaston, apart from a memorable ceremony, was a very large and handsome Bible which we hope will grace their meetings for the next century or more.
When the Grand Loge National Francaise became interested in setting up a University Lodge in Paris on the lines of INUL they negotiated their visit, naturally, through Dr Aston. As a French and Spanish linguist and with his wide experience of International conferences of all sorts, he was ideally suited to the job. Contacts were made and in 1985 came the first major formal visit of the GM, Deputy GM and Grand Secretary of the GLNF to Isaac Newton, leading to regular exchanges with demonstrations of working and eventually to the signing of a formal Jumelage or twinning, which was done in Paris in 1989. Dr Aston rather hoped that the Jumelage would be a twinning of Provinces rather than merely of Lodges but by that time he was in very poor health and lacked the energy and vigour which would have been needed to see that established. He was, nevertheless, laden with medals by the French and was appointed an Honorary Grand Warden of the Province of Lutèce. I remember the delight on the faces of some of the younger French frères when Stanley Aston rose and addressed them so fluently. One of them leaned to me and said 'He speak much better French than any of us!'
The later years of Dr Aston's service were marred by illness and accident. We believed Dr Aston had recovered from his first operation (October '85,) but in '87 the Provincial Grand Secretary, in concluding his report, observed that the PGM's health was not robust though he was visiting and participating with great determination. He asked him to slow down for the sake of his health and reduce his exertions a little. As well talk to the wind. Further operations were complicated by accidents, not only a nasty fall from a recalcitrant ladder, but also being assaulted by a wayward motor bicycle. He was forced to miss his first Provincial Grand Lodge in 1988, which was taken by Canon Barker, but he was back in '89 when he officially announced his resignation. It was ten years and two days, he told us, since he had first addressed us as Provincial Grand Master. He was 'too sad to laugh and too old to cry'. I commend, to any who wish to appreciate Dr Aston's plans and work, the printed copy of his last address to his Provincial Grand Lodge. It can be found in the Year Book for 1989. He died after a long illness in May 1992.
Although he was held in high regard and affection by the great majority of the Province, Dr Aston was not universally popular. He often joked about a weakness he recognised in himself, saying that a lifetime as a University Lecturer meant that whenever he stood up to speak he automatically did fifty minutes! He could be acerbic and he never suffered fools at all, let alone gladly, so some people would occasionally feel hurt by him. Criticism can be wounding and, when the PGM disagreed with something, he was never shy about saying so. At times, to one's dismay, he said it in public. However, even the most mortified of his targets would always admit that the interests of the Province came first for Dr Aston and that his work for the Province was outstandingly well and faithfully done. He left it in much better heart and stronger condition than he found it and that is all that can be asked of any man.