Men at the Top – W Bro Michael Todd PAGDC Metropolitan Grand Inspector
W Bro David Pugsley SLGR interviews
Our latest man at the top, W Bro Michael Todd, PAGDC (becoming PSGD on 28 April 2021), MetGInsp, started his life near the city of Johannesburg founded by the Dutch settlers, the Afrikaans, during their northern migration from the Cape to the South African Plains. For a boy growing up, it was the outdoor life of dreams, freedom to explore, to challenge yourself against nature, to discover skills that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. “To learn to take risks, but to be aware of the risk you are taking”, he tells me. But even in the high veld, as the Dutch settlers discovered, you live in a Rainbow Nation of people. All with different experiences, different claims, different cultures, needing space and air to breathe. In her poem for the recent US President’s inauguration, the poet Amanda Gorman says, “We’ve learnt that quiet isn’t always peace.”
Bro Michael’s family were originally from Scotland; his great-grandfather leaving Paisley to work as a civil engineer on the Panama Canal and, like many others, contracted yellow fever in the process. He was sent to Chile to recuperate and, whilst there, was initiated into Lodge Esmerelda under the Scottish Constitution in the industrial city of Concepción. Meanwhile, his son, Bro Michael’s grandfather, was sent out to South Africa to work for the family’s operations in Johannesburg’s, where Bro Michael’s father was born. Bro Michael’s mother arrived during the Second World War, braving the perilous sea journey (the ship behind bombed; the one in front torpedoed) to re-join her father. He moved out to South Africa during the Great Depression of the 1930s to work as a Chemical Engineer in a factory making explosives in Modderfontein near Johannesburg.
Initiated into the Lodge of Prosperity No. 2607, Bro Michael’s grandfather asked his father, who had arrived from Chile, to join the Lodge. As his father hadn’t been through the Chair, he jumped ahead and was, therefore, able to install his son. In 1954, Bro Michael’s father was initiated by his father, who installed him as well. The Lodge family tradition was retained in 1997 when Bro Michael was initiated by his father. When in 2007 he was installed as Master of his adopted London Lodge, Comity No 5649, the Lodge allowed his father to install him into the Chair. Five generations later, Bro Michael initiated his eldest son into Comity. An occasion he remembers fondly as his father, at the age of 84, did a word-perfect presentation of the working tools of the degree.
For those growing up in the UK in the 1970s, 1976 was the long hot summer. For a generation of South Africans, it was another year in the “Long Walk to Freedom” out of the apartheid regime, this time marked by the students from numerous Sowetan schools protesting in Soweto’s streets about the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. A worrying time for Michael as he was an eleven-year-old pupil at a school less than 7 km away from these events. 1976 was also the first time the Government allowed TV broadcasts in South Africa. I am sure younger readers will pass straight over that last sentence as it is incredible to think that this was the pre-internet era: newspapers and state-controlled radio were the only ways of catching up on the news.
After conscription and university, Bro Michael set up a successful business but, after nine months, he realised he needed more cash to grow it further. He had proved that he could get a company started, it was now time to prove he could grow one. The opportunity came via a managing director of a larger business who offered him a job. During the next five years, he opened operations in Cape Town, Durban, and Namibia growing the Company by a considerable extent and ending up as joint CEO and completing a management buyout.
Precipitated by a series of robberies, he decided that his time in South Africa was ending. With his British passport in hand, he and his pregnant wife, decided to make a new life in the UK, with their eldest son Andrew being born seven weeks after arriving. Soon up and running with a new business, he was introduced by a friend to the Lodge of Comity. The Lodge met at Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court associated with lawyers and legal education since the thirteenth century. Bro Michael was Master for two years before becoming Secretary for a further two before picking up his first London role as a Metropolitan Grand Steward.
Meanwhile, a chance meeting led to him joining the Worshipful Company of Turners. In the fourteenth century, Edward III decreed that ‘wooden measures, for wine as for ale’ should be made by ‘turnours’ with marks of their own; the medieval turners established the English pint as an official measure. The Company has carried forward the skills of turning into the modern age, with many of its members being skilled at wood turning as a hobby; the Company sponsors awards for skilled craftsmen to learn the art of turning. The Company has a Lodge; St Catherine’s No 3743, which Bro Michael joined in 2003. He was Master for the first time in 2007 and again in 2013. He was exalted into St. Catherine’s Caledonian Chapter No 3743 in 2005, subsequently joining Old Shirburnian Chapter No 3304, becoming MEZ in 2015.
Bro Michael has a taste for adventure and the outdoors, born from his childhood where it was common for him to set out into the bush first with a bunch of friends, then later as a scout leader. Even his business eschews the comfort of a car’s enclosed space to sell everything on two wheels. If you live in south-west London, that scooter that nearly knocked you over may have come from Bro Michael’s dealership. When he is not endangering Londoners’ lives by proxy, he likes to set himself a physical challenge. The first one was to cycle, with fellow Freemasons, from London to Amsterdam in forty-eight hours to raise money for a robotic radiotherapy machine for Bart’s Hospital, the CyberKnife appeal. His next challenge was to attempt the Étape Mon Ventoux, one of the most famous stages of the Tour de France. It is 176 km long with one of the toughest climbs in professional cycling, with gradients of over 8, 9 and 10 per cent in the final kilometres. On his first attempt, a cramp stopped him just a kilometre from the finish, which must have been heart breaking. Never one to shirk a challenge, he competed again and completed it the following year. Feeling fit, he tried sprint triathlons next and was going to do a full triathlon but was knocked off his bike and broke his shoulder. As part of his business is running a motorcycle training school, he decided the next challenge would be to take off-road bikes to Morocco for a trip through the Atlas Mountains down to the Sahara near the Algerian border and back. This was not his first trip back to Africa as he has hiked up the steep route of Kilimanjaro and camped out in the Ngorongoro Crater on holidays.
As you would expect, Bro Michael has had many encounters with wild animals in his life. None more frightening than being in a stationary Land Rover to let a pride of male lions pass less than a metre away, when one of the males, the Land Rover’s height, let out a primeval roar to answer the females calling distantly. When you hear a lion roaring far away, it is enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck; when close up, he tells me it is terrifying. His experiences growing up have left him with a profound sense of nature’s power and the limited resources we have on our planet.
Finishing our interview, we talk about all that has passed in his life, his guts and determination, humanity, love of his homeland, and the realisation that his life is now here in the UK, five thousand miles from the place where he started. He tells me that he can get a lump in his throat when hearing the Tyler’s Toast “Wishing them a safe return to their native land should they so desire”. A poignant reminder to those who have left their native land behind and returning is not that simple.
Arena wishes him well for the new chapter of his life as a Metropolitan Grand Inspector. Should you be hurrying to a meeting, you may spot our intrepid iInspector on his preferred mode of transport, naturally two-wheeled, just before you get mown down by one of his scooters!
His favourite place is Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (Sailing).
His favourite pastime is photography.
Aged six, he helped his Dad build a sailing dinghy (Mirror dinghy).
Was taught to speed read at junior school and still reads several books a week.
He can sing in three different languages.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 44 April 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 44.