Masonic Golden Trowel Award Bestowed on a Treasured Brother Raj Bhalla


Raj Bhalla addressing the gathering at the Masonic Lodge

By Jawahar Malhotra

RICHMOND: Even as he spoke from the podium after receiving the coveted award, Raj Bhalla could not contain his impulse to poke some fun at his own expense with his well-known wit. He began with his experience as a member of his Masonic Lodge in Port Washington, New York when he was told that only the Worshipful Master could have his head covered. Bhalla, a Sikh with a turban, stated his obvious dilemma, and the Lodge relented. He stayed at the Paumanok-Port Washington No. 855 Lodge from 1976 till 1993, serving as its Worshipful Master in 1982. He has been a Free Mason for over 50 years.

Then he explained how he got involved with the Morton Masonic Lodge No. 72 in Richmond after moving to Sugar Land in 1995. “I met Judge Adolphus at a dinner party at the house of then FBISD Superintendent Dr. Raj Chopra, and he invited me to join,” he recalled. “Then I found out that the judge had ruled on the traffic ticket that his wife Kanwal had received earlier.” Both the Chopras were among the guests at the award ceremony.

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Bhalla, who is a Past Master, with (from left) Jim Starks, Senior Warden; Wayne Switzer, Worshipful Master
and Joe Shepherd, Past Dist. Deputy Grand Master

To the titters of the about 60 people in the Lodge No. 72’s second floor chambers on Saturday, April 18 – over 40 of whom were Bhalla’s friends or family, each whom he introduced by name – Bhalla went onto to explain how he had become fascinated by the notion of becoming part of the Masons creed as a young boy. “My father was a Past Grand Standard Bearer and Past Junior Regional Grand Warden in the Grand Lodge of India on Janpath Avenue in New Delhi,” Bhalla, who is now a sprightly 84, explained, “and my younger brother GPS Bhalla who became Master of Lodge in Madras and youngest brother Paul who was raised at Hollywood Lodge in CA and I were inspired by him.” By June 1964, Bhalla had become a Master Mason at the Northern Star Lodge No. 21 in Ferozepur Cantonment, Punjab, just miles from the Indo-Pak border.

“Freemasonary is a fraternity, not a religion,” Bhalla continued, “emphasizing personal growth and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy.” On this evening when Bhalla was honored, a copy of the Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holiest text (which Bhalla had brought) was laid out next to the Bible on the altar in the middle of the room.

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With his wife Kanwal by his side, Raj Bhalla receives the Golden Trowel Award from Worshipful Master Wayne Switzer.

Freemasonary is believed to have arisen from stonemason guilds during the Middle Ages in Europe, and are referred to in the Regius Poem printed in 1390. By 1717, four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England. It then spread throughout the continent and the American Colonies. Some very famous Americans were Masons, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere. Bhalla quoted from a passage written by another famous Mason, US President Teddy Roosevelt, in which he said that “we meet on the same level in the Lodge” and differences in levels and positions in life evaporate. He concluded with a poem “The Mother Lodge” by another famous Mason: Rudyard Kipling.

Bhalla was being presented with the prestigious Golden Trowel, the highest award that a Lodge can bestow upon an individual member in recognition for the Brother’s devoted and outstanding service to Masonic principles. In a handout to the award, the Morton Lodge wrote they “valued him” as a “valuable asset and something of a treasure…. an exceptional example of the Craft.”


The front facade of the Morton Mason Lodge No. 72 in Richmond, Texas

The seniormost officer of the Morton Mason Lodge, known as the Worshipful Master, Wayne Switzer, dressed in a beige suit and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, made the presentation to Bhalla as his wife Kanwal stood beside him. The Lodge officers and five other members who attended, wore their distinct Masonic Aprons over their pants and spoke admiringly of the service that Brother Raj had given to the Lodge and the younger brother, a fellow Mason Paul who flew in from San Antonio, congratulated him.

Later that evening, after the award, Bhalla hosted a celebratory dinner for all the guests and Mason members at Karl’s Restaurant not too far away on FM 359 in Richmond where over many libations, appetizers and a sumptuous selection of entrees – and many a good cheer – the merriment continued till closing time.

The Bhalla’s extended family from the East Coast were all at hand to join in: older son Gurpreet and his son Ravi (who, his proud grandfather could not stop telling everyone, had gotten into every Ivy League school to study law, settling on Yale); Gurpreet’s wife Jyotish and younger son Narinder with his daughter Sonya and his wife Tracy with their son Ashton; Brother Raj couldn’t have been prouder to have them all there.