Wineka column: Gandy celebrates 60 years as an Ancient Freemason

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2012

SALISBURY — Because it’s a speed trap on the way to the beach and pretty modest in size, Jim Gandy almost hates to say he’s from Society Hill, S.C.
“The entering and leaving signs are on the same post,” he says.
But it was a good place for a curious youngster to grow up, and as a boy, Gandy always wanted to know more about his dad’s weekly Masonic meetings.
He knew where his father was going, but he didn’t know why.
“I kept bugging him a long time,” Gandy says, “and he said, ‘Maybe when you’re old enough, you can find out.’ ”
At 21, as a young soldier at Fort Jackson, S.C., Jim Gandy found out. On June 25, 1952, he received his white lambskin apron in recognition of becoming a first-degree Mason.
Today at an afternoon gathering of Masonic officials, friends and family, Gandy will receive a pin and certificate recognizing his 60 years as an Ancient Freemason.
It means the world to Gandy, who cherishes his membership in this somewhat secret society of men who promote principles of brotherliness, charity and mutual aid.
“God’s got a plan for everybody,” says Gandy, 81. “I had no idea I’d be a 60-year Mason.”
Gandy and his wife, Dot, have been married almost 61 years. They now live in The Gables community off Faith Road, and the ceremony in which Jim will receive his 60-year honors will take place at The Gables clubhouse.
Alex A. Roberts, secretary for the Fort Jackson Masonic Lodge No. 374 in Columbia, S.C., will be on hand, with six or seven past masters of that lodge, where Gandy was awarded a life membership a mere 40 years ago.
In Society Hill, Gandy’s parents ran a truck stop and restaurant, and Gandy’s first job naturally was working for them.
Gandy said his dad was “the instigator, the driving force,” behind his becoming a Mason.
“I wanted to know what it was all about, what it taught,” Gandy says. “I thought, it’s got to be good, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
After 60 years, Gandy says he wouldn’t sell the experience for any amount of money.
“It builds your character, it really does,” says Dot Gandy, herself an Eastern Star.
The Army drafted Gandy, and he went to basic training at Fort Jackson in May 1951. By August of that year, he married Dot, a Cheraw girl who he had met much earlier on a blind date.
Gandy turned 21 a month later. His father and a neighbor friend, who also was a Mason, turned in his application for masonry the same month he entered the service, but it lay on the lodge secretary’s desk until September.
A required investigation period followed, and Jim Gandy wasn’t initiated into the society until Oct. 10, 1951. He passed his first-degree work May 19, 1952, and was “raised” and received him lambskin apron the next month, on June 25.
Many men are buried in the apron they receive on that special day.
“The first meeting I ever went to was with my dad,” Gandy says. “He was watching me — I’ll never forget.”
Gandy earned his first degree at Cheraw Masonic Lodge No. 15 and his second and third degrees at Fort Jackson Masonic Lodge No. 374, which was founded in 1949.
His father also came to the meeting when he became a third-degree Mason.
Gandy says he kept his membership at the Cheraw lodge for two years before demitting and becoming a member at Fort Jackson.
His hitch in the Army took him from Fort Jackson to Fort McClellan, Ala., and back to Fort Jackson. After the Army stint was up, he and Dot stayed in Columbia as Jim went to work for Pet Dairy.
Outside of work, Gandy dedicated himself to the Masonic lodge. “We had a nice little lodge at the fort,” Gandy says.
His fellow Masons, their wives and families became part of his and Dot’s social framework.
“We were all just one family,” Dot Gandy says. “It was a wonderful life.”
The families seemed to do everything together — cook out, travel, party, share Christmases and work together on the annual barbecue fundraisers.
“We used to roll the rug up and dance, sit and talk, eat, and the kids ran all over the place,” Dot remembers fondly.
When soldiers who were Masons were shipped overseas and came back to Fort Jackson, they often landed briefly in the Gandys’ home until they found new accommodations.
The Army eventually forced the Masonic lodge to find a home off the base. In 1960, when Gandy was senior warden and preparing to become master the next year, the lodge built its own place in Columbia.
For Gandy, the glory days in masonry were definitely in Columbia. In the early part of his career with Pet, when he had a milk route, Gandy would spend the night helping prospective Masons work toward proficiency in their degrees.
Dot said he would come home without sleep, change his clothes for work and head out for the milk route.
But in 1967, as Gandy was working his way up the company ladder, Pet Dairy wanted him to move to Johnson City, Tenn.
“That was a sad day for me,” he says.
Over the next 40-plus years, as he traveled up and down the East Coast, Gandy attended Masonic meetings in many states, but he never transferred his membership from Fort Jackson Lodge No. 374.
Dot, Jim and their three children would move from Johnson City to Kingsport, Tenn., Decatur and Birmingham, Ala., then Goldsboro and Lexington.
He followed up his years at Pet by working for both Flav-O-Rich and Coble dairies.
When his job with Coble moved to Lexington, the Gandys settled in Salisbury in 1983. After his retirement from Coble, Gandy built a successful window-washing service in Salisbury — something he still dabbles in sometimes, though he has sold the business.
Only two years ago, Gandy received the Chapel of Four Chaplains’ Legion of Honor Award, which recognizes selfless service to others without regard to their faith or creed.
When the Gandys used to live in Neel Estates, they wowed passing motorists and neighbors with their elaborate Christmas light displays.
In 2007, the couple moved to The Gables, where life is a bit more subdued.
Jim Gandy survived a horrific traffic accident at Faith Road and Jake Alexander Boulevard in 2010. In the accident, he broke his pelvis in three places, had a collapsed lung and fractured four ribs.
He spent eight days at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte.
“We almost gave up on him,” Dot says.
But Gandy made a complete recovery and is fit and ready for today’s get-together.
He still thinks back to when he was the boy who asked his father why he was going to those Masonic meetings.
“It was more than I ever dreamed of,” Gandy says. “It was more than I would imagine.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@