James [Jim] Edward Harker was born in Middlesbrough on 29th August 1933 into a long line of Fairground Folk [and other Jim Harkers!]:
After leaving his National Service in the RAF in November 1954, during which he worked on Spitfires as a Senior Air craftsman, Jim returned to his life in ‘Civvy’ Street and worked both at the family fairground attractions as well as pursuing a career in the automotive parts supply business.
When Jim married his wife Rita in late 1957, he was living in a traditional Fairground wagon sited in what was ‘The Victory Club Yard’ at Roker; Rita’s father, Fred Hastwell was already a member of Palatine lodge:
Fred’s Masonic story is quite sad, as after working his way through the various offices in the Lodge, he was Senior Warden in 1961. In September 1961 the minutes record that he was present in the Lodge; but by October 1961 a letter from him was read out expressing his thanks for the ‘get-well’ letters he had received while in Hospital. Sadly in November 1961 his obituary was read out in the Lodge and the Brethren stood in Fraternal remembrance. He never had the joy of being installed as Worshipful Master of Palatine Lodge.
Jim missed the ‘camaraderie’ that he’d experienced during his service life and following conversations with Fred, he hoped that joining Freemasonry would fill that gap somewhat.
Jim’s details were read out as a potential candidate on 9/2/1961, at which time he was employed as a Stores Manager for Irving Electrical Services - later part of Lucas AutoElectricals. Fred was his Proposer and Harry Carter his Seconder; Harry is our oldest extant Past Master at time of writing.
Jim was Initiated 13th April 1961, Passed 8th June 1961 and Raised 11th January 1962.
It was 10 years before he worked his way through the ‘ranks’ and became Worshipful Master on 9th December 1971.
The extended time to progress to Worshipful Master was typical in those days when membership was high and with new candidates forming a queue to join Palatine Lodge, indeed Jim was initiated during a ‘double-first’ along with a Rueben Cameron.
Lodge Ladies Nights were very well attended in those days – Lesley his eldest daughter, later to become the wife of W Bro Alan Prest, recalls that at Jim’s ladies night when she was a teenager, she won an iron in the raffle but Jim made her put it back as it wouldn’t seem right for the Worshipful Master's daughter to win a major prize!
Jim’s ritualistic abilities were second to none and he still remains one of the few people to ever present the First Degree Tracing Board Lecture within the Lodge:
His usual comment after hearing a piece of excellent ritual within the Lodge was “I’ve only ever heard it done better once, and modesty forbids from saying who that was by...”
He applied his Masonic devotions to various other degrees in Masonry and was eventually to become Very Worshipful Brother Harker in the Mark Degree as Deputy Provincial Grand Master. He attained Grand Lodge Honours in the Craft also.
Jim was a keen amateur painter and many of his artworks were offered as raffle prizes and still adorn numerous walls around the Province. He was also a keen sportsman and as well as running the first Great North Run was regularly to be found on the squash court playing against W Bro Joe Laidler.
He was instrumental in the creation of the annual Masonic Christmas Cards for the Province (originally only seen in the Mark degree but passed along to Craft Masonry as well). His snow-scene paintings were the usual cover-piece. This idea alone raised many thousands of pounds for Masonic Charities.
As has been mentioned elsewhere, Jim was a founder member of the Palatine Quartet along with Harry Milne, Harry Childs and Alan Sumby, who was later replaced by Wilf Jones.
The Palatine Quartet in action [from a vinyl recording]
Harry Milne, Jim Harker, Wilf Jones
They toured the Province rendering entertainment at various Lodges & Social Events, including notably at Durham Prison!! The amount of money they raised for charity [and more especially the pleasure they brought] is incalculable.
Jim was proud of the fact that his Son James followed him into the Lodge and is the youngest WM of Palatine in the modern era at time of writing.
Alan Prest (son-in-law), Jim Harker Jnr, Jim Harker Snr
Jim’s Masonic Career spanned sixty years and it was only during his later years when age and illness overcome him, did he begin to cut back on his Lodge nights.
Jim passed to The Grand Lodge Above in July 2021 but remains sadly missed:
His works as a Man and a Mason were exemplary and should remain as a yardstick for what can be achieved in Masonry through hard work and dedication.
Written by W Bro Alan Prest