Gone but not Forgotten – W Bro Professor Jack Alexandra Simmons, LGR, LGCR. 1934-2021

By W Bro Ron Wainer, SLGR

The Polytechnic Lodge No 2847 reflects with pride on the professional and Masonic life of their late Worshipful Master, W Bro Professor Jack Alexandra Simmons, LGR, LGCR.

Jack was born just before WWII. His mother had come from Poland not long before to be introduced to his father, whose mother was also Polish. In contrast, the Simmons family could be traced back to London for many generations. At 10, he won a scholarship to Bancroft's School, a Public School in Woodford. After leaving, he took a gap year to work in the Nuclear Physics Division of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell before returning to London to study for a Special Physics Degree at Sir John Cass College. He then moved on to the Medical College of St Bartholomew's Hospital.

After his PhD and spending two years in the USA, he returned to England and joined the Medical Research Council Radiation Research Unit at the Hammersmith Hospital. He subsequently went on to teach physics and electronics at the old West Ham College of Technology before taking a research position in Munich to study the effects of radiation on chemicals of biological importance.

Returning to London, Jack continued his research in radiation, its effects and applications. His controversial views on radiation risks to humans would often come into academic conflict with his PhD supervisor, the nuclear physicist and Nobel peace prize winner Joseph Rotblat. Jack published Radiation Protection Dosimetry: A radical reappraisal. The measurement of radiation dose was based on physical principles. Jack believed it should rather be based on the biological effects at the DNA level. After some time, several international commissions started to concur with him.

When the power plant exploded in Chernobyl, Jack was working at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. The potential effects of the accident in the USA were unknown, but the director of the EPA wanted to reassure the public that the matter was being carefully monitored and provided a phone number for anyone who was worried.

"It's an interesting sensation," said Jack, "to hear your telephone number being given out to 200 million Americans. Actually, there were four of us sharing this office, so we simply worked in 6-hour shifts round the clock for about a week."

Returning to the UK, Jack continued his research with his PhD students and, in 1995, was awarded the title of Professor. He formally retired in 1999 but continued with his writings until a couple of years ago.  

Two very important events occurred in Jack's life in 1989. The first was that he was initiated into the Old Bancroftian Lodge No 5619 and subsequently went through its Chair twice. Later, Jack joined the Polytechnic Lodge No 2847. He was exalted into the Essex Schools Chapter No 6648 in 1992 and went through its chair twice. He was then advanced into the Temple Mark Lodge in 2002 and very soon afterwards into Temple Royal Ark Mariner. In later years, he was invited to join the Worshipful Company of Fuellers in 2015 by a fellow member of the Committee of the Supporters of Nuclear Energy. Bro Jack held LGR and LGCR and had provincial honours in Mark and Mariner.

Second but perhaps most important event of 1989, he married Heather. They had met through their work on the committee of the Association of Polytechnic Teachers, of which Jack was a founder member and twice its National Chairman.

Although Jack's Masonic Career was long, he had never been to a Ladies Festival. The Polytechnic Lodge was determined to put that right and started to arrange a bumper festival for him and Heather in 2019. As soon as Covid restrictions were lifted, a Ladies Night was planned at The Bournemouth Carlton Signature Hotel. 

During these final arrangements, Jack became seriously ill. But he remained determined that the festival should go ahead and that he would attend. Tragically, Jack's condition deteriorated quickly.

He became bedridden yet remained insistent that the ladies festival should proceed. He strongly wished for Heather to attend the function, although it was becoming increasingly apparent that Jack was fast approaching the end of his life.

Our member, W Bro Bill Parish, PDistJGD, kindly volunteered to act as the personal escort for Jack's wife, and the festival weekend proceeded. It was a tremendous success. One of the Lodge’s members, Bro Wayne Muller owns a company that rents and sells audio-visual equipment for conferences.

Bro Wayne proposed to record and stream the ladies' festival. With hi-tec digital cameras and microphones dotted around the banqueting suite, the whole proceedings was streamed live to Jack's bedside so he could follow the event.

The Lodge secretary made an emotional toast to Jack into the camera, and Jack's reply, which he had previously written, was read over to all guests by W Bro Bill Parish. Bro Jack was called to The Grand Lodge Above nine days later.

The Ladies Festival weekend collected the magnificent sum of £6,000.00 for Jack's chosen charity, the Williams Syndrome Foundation.

Jack was an excellent Mason and a great Master for The Polytechnic Lodge. We are all better men and better Masons for having known him.

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 49 August 2022 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 49 here.