Saturday, November 8, 2008

‘Just call me Frank’

Francis Scott Key III, a Scottish Rite Mason since 1944, when he joined the A&ASR in the Panama Canal Zone. He demitted in 1975 and joined the Valley of Northern New Jersey.

Naturally Freemasonry devotes a lot of time to history, whether its own history, or American history, world history, Biblical history, etc. But where the annals of Masonry and those of larger contexts intertwine is especially fascinating and worthy of study and preservation. That was the case today when Francis Scott Key III, the great-great-grandson of the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was honored with a very special luncheon followed by an interview filmed for posterity by the Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

A very special day indeed. For the occasion, Ill. John William McNaughton, Sovereign Grand Commander of the AASR-NMJ, and his counterpart, Ill. Ronald A. Seale, SGC of the A&ASR-SJ journeyed to Jersey to be part of this celebration, joining local Masonic dignitaries from Scottish Rite and Grand Lodge alike.

“I just try to be a good citizen,” said Key when asked what it is like to share a name so well known from history books. “The name didn’t mean much to me until I was 21.” It was at that age when he began to learn about his family history. Key said his father never spoke much about the family, alluding to a rift among relatives concerning something called the Civil War. “I began reading about his father, a lieutenant during the Revolutionary War. He marched his men from Maryland to Boston to fight with Washington. When George Washington died, he (by then a general) got his men together and paraded behind the casket on the way to the cemetery. He spent three or four days with Martha Washington then; she had gotten to know the Key family quite well.”

“When I got older and read about Francis Scott Key, I wanted to be like him, but I couldn’t be. He was a highly educated man, and I am not. I only went to high school. He was a lieutenant during the war – not a fighter, but a lawyer. And he did a lot for people beside writing “The Star-Spangled Banner.’ ” But Key and his historic ancestor do share traits. “He knew what he wanted (in life) and he got it,” Key explained, “and I did too. I got to work in South and Central America, Africa and Europe, and met a lot of people. The good lord has been with me.”

“It is an honor to have this great name,” he added. “For what those people did, I feel very proud to be related to them. I was in the Navy, and every time they played the National Anthem it meant a lot to see what that song meant to other people.”

That shared sense of pride he witnessed is important to Key, not only for the way it honored his namesake’s memory, but because to him that common bond of American identity is what can reverse the biggest problems he sees confronting America today. “I have been on different Army and Navy posts, and in many lodges too, and watched everybody gather. Everybody stands up and really honors that song.”

“I don’t know how young people feel about it,” he added. “I know today many people – even older men – cannot sing even the first part of it. I do want people to respect the American flag and show it. And you should know the first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I want for America what we had before,” he continued, alluding to a national identity. “I want to see our country get back like it was years ago. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just an ordinary old man.” He also explained in detail his admiration and hopes for President-elect Barack Obama, looking to him for leadership in uniting Americans of all backgrounds. “He wants to make something of this country, and I think he will.”

Francis Scott Key III was born September 23, 1912 in Panama City in the Republic of Panama. His family lived and worked there in the Canal Zone thanks to his father’s personal friendship with Theodore Roosevelt. Key made his life there into adulthood, working on Canal projects and for United Fruit, and was made a Mason there as well. He progressed to the Scottish Rite in 1944, joining the Valley of Balboa. He has resided in New Jersey since 1960, and joined Tilden Lodge, No. 183 in Dumont (now Alpine-Tilden-Tenakill Lodge, No. 77). He received a demit from those four A&ASR bodies in the Panama Canal Zone in 1975, when he joined the Valley of Northern New Jersey.

“We can’t look backward. We have to look forward. I have traveled all over the world, and we’ve got everything here,” Key said. “If the people would get together behind this new president – he’s got enough ‘upstairs’ – we can make this a better country again.”

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