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allen earl roberts's biography
1917 - 1997
by Wallace McLeod, FPS
For over twenty years he had held various administrative positions in the working world. And so, in 1971 and 1972 he underwent the five-part examination held by the Administrative Management Society. This qualified him to receive a diploma as a Certified Administrative Manager, which was presented to him in Chicago on September 14, 1972.
In 1969 he founded his own company, Imagination Unlimited, primarily to serve as a means for making moving pictures. In 1982 Anchor Communications was formed, to help publish Masonic books. It soon became a subsidiary of Imagination Unlimited.
Allen was made a Mason in Babcock Lodge, No 322, Highland Springs, Virginia, on April 1, 1948, and served as Master in 1955. He joined a number of Masonic bodies and concordant orders. He was Master of Virginia Research Lodge, No 1777, in 1965-67, and served as Secretary from 1973 to 1996. He was Sovereign Grand Master of the Allied Masonic Degrees in 1990. He was named a Fellow of the Philalethes Society in 1963, and was proclaimed a Blue Friar in 1967. He served as President of the Philalethes Society in 1984-86, and was its Executive Secretary from 1984 on. In 1962 he was instrumental in forming the Virginia Craftsmen, a degree team that wore Confederate uniforms. Over the next 32 years they travelled all over the United States, Canada, and Britain, conferring or exemplifying some 200 degrees in various locations. Allen was in constant demand as a speaker, and carried out many lecture tours.
He was best known however for his Masonic writings hundreds of articles, and dozens of books. As John J. Robinson said (Pilgrim's Path, 5), Allen was "the most prolific author, perhaps in all of Masonic history." He was certainly the most effective educator. He saw what American Masons needed, and then went ahead and gave it to them. A few examples will establish the point. The War Between the States probably did more to shape the face of America than any other event in history. Has anyone ever written about the part played in it by Masons, and the effect of the War on Freemasonry? Not until Allen Roberts did it, in House Undivided: The Story of Freemasonry and the Civil War (1961)! This was his first major book, and the same year he was awarded the Philalethes Certificate of Literature.
Again, the business world has long known about man-management and leadership-training. Who brought these techniques into Masonry? Brother Roberts, that's who, with his Key to Freemasonry's Growth (1969)! Isn't it time we had a good clear up-to-date book on Masonic symbolism, a book that can be safely put into the hands of a brand new member? Yes, it is, and in fact Allen Roberts gave it to us in 1974 (The Craft and its Symbols)! Many groups of people, politicians and film-makers and authors and architects and lawyers, have their own biographical dictionaries, to tell who is working in the field, why he is important, and how we can get in touch with him. Shouldn't there be one for Masons too? Yes, there should, and Al Roberts produced it (Who is Who in Freemasonry, 1984; 2nd edition, 1986; 3rd edition, 1996).
And the list goes on and on. Some of his other familiar books are G. Washington: Master Mason (1976), Brother Truman (1985), Freemasonry in American History (1985), The Search for Leadership (1987), Seekers of Truth (1988), The Mystic Tie (1991), and Masonic Trivia (and Facts) (1994). He kept working right up to the end, and in the past year produced or collaborated on House Reunited, new editions of Who is Who in Freemasonry and of Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, the introduction to the facsimile reprint of Webb's Monitor, and the forthcoming MSA digest on Freemasonry and Democracy: Its Evolution in North America. When comes such another?
But as well as his writings, he also made a number of fine moving pictures. First came the four films in the Masonic Leadership Series (based on his book, Key to Freemasonry's Growth): Growing the Leader in 1970, Breaking Barriers to Communication in 1971, Planning Unlocks the Door in 1972, and People Make the Difference in 1973 (they were released on a single video tape in 1989). Then he produced films for several Grand Lodges: Challenge! (1977) for Virginia, Precious Heritage (1977) for Ohio; and Living Stones (1984) for Georgia. And he made others for the concordant orders: The Saga of the Holy Royal Arch of Freemasonry (1973), Lonely World (1979), which dealt with Royal Arch Research Assistance Program; and Virtue Will Triumph (1982), for the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction (unfortunately this film seems to have disappeared). And as well he produced two movies for the Masonic Service Association: The Brotherhood of Man (1975), and Fraternally Yours (1979). At least six of these productions received Awards at International Film and T.V. Festivals in New York and Houston.
Allen was consistently in the forefront in urging that Masonry should, without giving up any of its traditional landmarks, move with the times. Let us just give three examples. In 1969 he urged the need for a "clearing house" for Masonic information, which would at least cut down the amount of needless duplication of effort in different jurisdictions (Key to Freemasonry's Growth, 124-125). The Masonic Information Center in Washington was finally formed in the Spring of 1993, explicitly to serve as "a `clearing house', processing information of interest to the Masonic community" (Emessay Notes, February, 1993).
Again, in 1983 he had written, "Is it time to consider a Masonic bulletin board? ... Or should Freemasonry ignore this tremendous technological breakthrough as it has so many others?" (The Philalethes, 36.5). It was in 1987 that Hiram's Oasis, one of the earliest Masonic computer bulletin boards, was founded by Bro. Preston Burner. And in September 1992 a dispensation was granted for "Computer Cornerstone Chapter" of the Philalethes Society.
In February 1989 Allen gave the keynote address to the Conference of Grand Masters at Alexandria, Virginia, in which he argued the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry. On October 14, 1989, partly as a result of his address, the Grand Lodge of Connecticut began to allow intervisitation with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut the first "Caucasian" Grand Lodge to do so.
Allen did not pretend to be a "scholar"; in fact he was rather proud that he was not. His particular strengths lay in sifting through vast amounts of material, recognizing what was important, and then relating it to the real world around us. He wrote with clarity, in down-to-earth straightforward American English. America has never had such a productive Masonic author, such a dynamic Masonic communicator, such an effective Masonic educator, such a clear-sighted Masonic adviser, as Allen Roberts. So many of his books ought to be in the hands of every thoughtful Brother! He was a true hero to many of us, all over the free world. We all owe a tremendous debt to him; he has done so much for the gentle Craft.
Allen consistently tried to help and encourage those who were concerned with the dissemination of Masonic knowledge. And on January 1, 1972, he formed the Masonic Brotherhood of The Blue Forget-Me-Not to recognize "the workers in the quarries of Freemasonry the educators and writers." On the other hand, he found it hard to tolerate laziness, stupidity, ignorance, or dishonesty in his brothers. He had a tendency to speak his mind, and this sometimes brought him into friction with some of those who held high rank in the Craft. After all, not all Masonic politicians seem to be devoted to Masonic education. But even so, a number of Masonic honors, too many to list in full, were bestowed upon him, particularly in the later years. So, in 1988 he was given the George Washington Distinguished Service Medal of the Grand Lodge of Virginia. On July 9, 1994, his Grand Lodge renamed its library and museum in his honor. And in 1995 he was made a 33o, which is sometimes regarded as the highest Masonic accolade.
For several years his health had been uncertain, but it hardly seemed to slow him up. He died in the hospital in Richmond, after a brief illness, on March 13, 1997, in his 80th year. He leaves his loving wife Dorothy Grimes (Dottie), a constant source of encouragement and support; his five children, Allen, Wayne, Kenneth, Marcia (Weber), and Brian; his five grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren. To them all we express our profound sympathy.
Nobody, they say, is indispensable. And indeed Allen had a poem to that effect that he sometimes used. But we shall see. In the meantime, we are grateful for his life, his devotion, and his lasting contributions.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014