UNITY—Hoen M. Edwards Jr. recently joined a unique set of men in Virginia. A Mason of more than 50 years, he was tapped recently to receive the George Washington Distinguished Service Award, which is given only once a year to one person.
Edwards, 74, was more than a little surprised when he was called before everyone at the Grand Lodge of Virginia Annual Communication in Richmond on Nov. 8.
“I had no clue,” Edwards said. “When Grand Master Louis Campbell called for me, I shook just like someone shot me. That’s the honest truth.”
He added that the Grand Master selects whom he wants.
“The honor is mine,” Edwards said. “It’s the highest award I’ve ever received in my life.”
The path to this unexpected and unsought recognition started when the Zuni native met an associate of his dad’s.
“My father was a farmer just like I am. He dealt with all the fertilizer dealers, and one of them, William Lee Everett, was wearing a Masonic ring.”
Edwards said he asked the man, “What does that ring stand for?”
After learning its significance, he then asked Everett, “What do I have to do be in the Masons?”
“You’ve got it,” Everett said. “You’ve asked.”
Edwards was 21 years old then and a senior at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture. He was also member of the Corps of Cadets, which inducted him into the Pershing Rifles.
His service to Masonry began when he was made a Master Mason on Aug. 3, 1961, in Courtland Lodge No. 85, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.
Since then, Edwards has been a Worshipful Master; the District Deputy Grand Master of District 32; Grand Pursuivant; Grand Lecturer from 1997-2002 and again since 2007.
He explained that the role of the Grand Pursuivant is to attend to the Grand Master. The Grand Lecturer is responsible for rituals throughout Virginia. He ensures they are taught and followed correctly. Edwards mentioned he has 25 division lecturers under his supervision.
“I’m pretty well committed to Masons,” he said. “I try to give my best to everything I do…to give 100 percent.”
Edwards also sees the fraternity as a way to better one’s self.
“You got into Masonry to make a good man a better man,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. If you live the principles of Masonry, you will no doubt be a better man.”
As an example, Edwards said that he used to be a very person, but his involvement gave him self-confidence. After taking his degrees in Masonry, he came not to mind standing in front of people.
In addition to belonging to Purdie Lodge No. 170, Edwards has honorary membership in Smithfield Union Lodge No. 18, Virginia Lodge No. 177 and Ivor Lodge No. 291. He is a member of the Valley of Newport News, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and invested as Knight Commander Court of Honor in 2005. He also belongs to Mount Nebo Royal Arch Chapter No. 20, Portsmouth Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar and Khedive Shrine Center.
Outside of the Masons, Edwards served as assistant scoutmaster in the Hunterdale Boy Scouts Troop 125. He was inducted into the Order of the Arrow in 1984, and he’s also received the Reid James Simmons Award for Ritualistic Excellence. Edwards is also active at Franklin Baptist Church.
His wife is the late Barbara Ann Brantley, who died in 2012. Edwards said he frequently feels her presence, and the award ceremony was no exception.
The couple has two children, Audra and McGuire, and two grandchildren.