THE MEN AT THE TOP W BRO RUSSELL SOLLOF
W Bro David Pugsley SLGR interviews W Bro Russell Sollof PAGDC PAGSoj Metropolitan Grand Inspector (RA)
Craft 1986 – Initiated into Rising Star Lodge No 6153
1994 – Installed as WM of Rising Star Lodge No 6153
2016 – Installed as WM of Rising Star Lodge No 6153
1997 – Exalted into Caducean Chapter No 5671
2012 – MEZ of Caducean Chapter No 5671
2017 – MEZ of Caducean Chapter No 5671
2002 – LGR
2013 – SLGR
2019 – PAGDC
2020 – MetGInsp
Royal Arch Ranks
2020 – PAGSoj
At 11 years old our Metropolitan Grand Inspector, W Bro Russell Sollof, first picked up an instrument to make a noise.
It was a trumpet, a blessing for his family in many ways, as nearly a decade later, he was given a noise abatement order by the local council for the loudness of his electric guitar. In the right way for London Masons, he hasn’t stopped making noise since, although these days his energy and passion goes into Freemasonry, not punk rock.
The latter came to England in 1914 from Bessarabia (formerly the Eastern half of the Principality of Moldovia before being annexed by the Russian Empire) to escape increasing antisemitism.
His mother s side of the family moved to London from Gloucestershire when she was a girl, and she converted to Judaism when she married his dad. His mum had a talent with the sewing machine and they consistently won first prize in every fancy dress at Pontin s for years to come – as she could make an outfit out of anything!
The family eventually moved out towards Loughton in Bro Russell s teenage years, although you can tell the East End had a significant influence on his development.
When he was growing up, he spent his summer holidays at Great Yarmouth helping out his grandfather and his uncle. They ran many of the markets and retail outlets in the town, whilst weekends during the depths of winter were spent helping in the freezing cold in markets such as at Burnt Oak, London. It must have been a fun time and a great training ground for thinking on your feet.
His father, who was also a footballer, had a trial for West Ham and played with the singer Frankie Vaughan – but there was no money in it in those days, which meant that it wasn’t a career option when raising a family.
His grandfather, captured after a commando raid in the Second World War, managed to escape three times before the Allied advance gave him his freedom.
At his funeral, Bro Russell discovered that he had volunteered to stay with the advancing army to release other POWs when he could have asked for repatriation. A selfless act in character with the man.
Leaving school in 1976 for an apprenticeship in electrical engineering Bro Russell decided to form his band called Too Much . He was the lead guitarist and songwriter.
Following years of Royal College of Music training in classical music and being in an Orchestra at school, he was suddenly fronting a rock and roll band and soon became part of the emergence of the new wave movement in the late 1970s. The band had a more stripped down and energetic style Rock and Roll at breakneck speed as he describes it.
Russell managed to secure them a recording contract with Lightning Records with their debut single, Who You Wanna Be written by him and which entered straight in at No 8 in the Music Week chart – reviewed in New Musical Express in March 1978 and positioned three below The Jam and above Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army.
A UK tour, a two-week play on Radio 1 and supporting big acts like Marty Wilde and other famous groups at the time, the future was promising for the youngsters.
Bro Russell even had the pleasure of ejecting Malcolm McLaren and his latest group the Slits when they tried to invade his stage during a live concert at a landmark Wembley Venue. Sadly, for our music listening pleasure, the record company went in a different direction and the dream was over, or nearly over.
Soon after the band split up, Bro Russell had to form a new band at short notice as the Dagenham Boys Club had entered them in the National Association of Boys Clubs Rock and Pop awards.
Five days of rehearsal, a couple of new songs written by Bro Russell and they were ready for the big day at the Leicester Square Theatre in London s West End.
As he describes it, this was like the XFactor of the day and, much to their surprise, they ended up winning the national competition, receiving their award on stage from singers Labi Siffre and Billy Idol and the Director of CBS Records to name but a few of the celebrity panel.
Once again, a record contract was not to follow; the rock and roll lifestyle was trickling away.
Who you wanna be turned out to be an appropriate title as the experience of fighting against the odds in the music industry taught Bro Russell a great lesson: not to give up.
He didn’t, and he had his apprenticeship to fall back on which proved very successful, and he set up his own company in the early Eighties and had about 50 people working for him.
Off the back of that success, he set up a restaurant and wine bar and a courier company.
Life was looking good until the crash at the end of the decade when everyone that he was supplying went into liquidation at the same time.
He lost everything, including his marriage and his home. He was barely 30 years old, undeterred and with an even tougher resolve, started again. Who You Wanna Be , his own words, must have been ringing in his ears.
After a further 30 years of running his own businesses, a 90 Billion Euro French-based multinational company headhunted him as Head of Projects, Sales and Development for UK and Ireland. The position was a return to London for him to their Canary Wharf HQ with projects such as providing low carbon, tri-generation, underground, district heating system and power stations for the 2012 Olympics at Stratford and neighbouring Westfield shopping Centre.
In recent years he has joined a smaller dynamic company in the role as Group Projects Director, helping grow the business from £30m to £100m.
They have made a great recruit in Bro Russell as his drive and energy from those early years are much in evidence.
He is close to his family. Three daughters from his first marriage Danielle, Michelle and Francesca are grown up now and his son Jack, now nineteen, is following in his father’s footsteps in engineering.
On December 22nd 2020 under Covid secure conditions, Russell married his Fiance Kimberley Stone, a senior physiotherapist, working within the NHS and currently seconded by Colchester Hospital heading up the Discharge Team in relocating Covid free patients out of wards and into Nursing homes.
Initiated into Rising Star Lodge No 6153, Bro Russell is very proud of his mother Lodge, particularly as the brethren have taken it through some tough times.
His introduction came through his business contacts as he had no family connections to Freemasonry.
Since then, Freemasonry has been a constant presence for him, no matter what is happening in the rest of his life. He has always been thankful for that first introduction. He calls it a gymnasium for the brain . He enjoys a good work out, finding the focus during a meeting an ideal opportunity to stop stressing about the trials and tribulations of everyday life and concentrate instead on the precepts, words and rituals of a Lodge meeting.
He reflects that London Freemasonry, in his opinion, has been dramatically enhanced by the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodge.
He thinks that it provides a mechanism for Freemason s to grow and develop – not only in Freemasonry but also the wider community, enhancing their journey and being instrumental in not only visualising their potential, but providing the necessary tools with which to make it happen.
As an example, he pulled together a team at short notice during the current crisis to assist providing tablets for London hospital Covid Intensive Care wards. He says It has been good to see the system evolve into one of a selection of merit rather than time served .
Like a lot of things in life, the people who put the most in get the most out, and that is true for Bro Russell. He says that the key for him is for people to smile and enjoy their Freemasonry. He makes that the watchword for his Inspectorate.
In his view, enjoyment and enthusiasm are what drives a new joiner to want to remain part of the Lodge and take part in broader initiatives, and it would be hard to find fault with that.
As an Inspector, he feels that it is not his role to inspect as the title would suggest, but to be an ally to the Lodge, a force for good, to help foster, support and enthuse, overcoming problems and talent spotting.
In essence doing all he can to ensure that being a Freemason continues to be an enjoyable, remarkable and rewarding experience wherever possible.
He has set a challenge for the Inspectorate; he wants to see no more warrants returned. He accepts that it is a big challenge.
To help, he is setting up in conjunction with the Leading Lights Initiative, a small internal team of empathetic troubleshooters to act as a Focus Group providing more intensive care and support to Lodges where needed.
The idea is to help a lodge in practical ways, not to increase their administrative/paperwork load further, but to be able to take an impartial step back and use their experience with fresh eyes to help see the wood from the trees and look at practical actions and solutions to turn the Lodge around.
He firmly believes that personal involvement makes a difference in this and other areas of life, and he reflects that a lot of his thinking came from his own experience of helping his mother Lodge survive and flourish.
Proud to be a Freemason, he tells me that Work is what I do; a Freemason is who I am. We have every race and religion working together in harmony, and we don t shout enough about this .
Sentiments many will support but good to hear aired nevertheless. Who You Wanna Be indeed.
Bro Russell took on the Inspectorate role in March shortly before the global pandemic took us into unknown territory.
There is no doubt that once life and Freemasonry return to normal, he will make an outstanding success of his Inspectorate challenge – not to return any Warrants on his watch.
We wish him well.
W Bro Russell Sollof – 5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW:
1. A Havana Cigar aficionado.
2. Lost 4 stone in COVID lockdown in training for the resumption of Freemasonry.
3. As a former punk rocker very proud to own a Rolls Royce at the age of 29 (Ed. – it was the 80s).
4. Favourite music at the moment – Mozart’s 40th in G Minor and Placido Domingo’s ‘De Mi Alma Latina’.
5. Can Karate chop a brick.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 43 January 2021 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 43.