Scott urges fitting tribute to Isaac Matalon

The head of the English Constitution of Freemasons in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Walter H Scott, has urged members of the St Thomas Lodge to name the building in which they meet in honour of the life and work of Isaac Matalon.

“To do so will be a fitting memorial to him who gave so much for his beloved St Thomas Lodge,” Scott told the freemasons in a lecture delivered earlier this month.

“Let his memory and his work not be forgotten,” Scott said after informing his audience of Matalon’s journey as a businessman and mason.

Here is a lightly edited version of Scott’s lecture.

“We can be thankful to a friend for a few acres or a little money; and yet for the freedom and command of the whole Earth, and for the great benefits of our being, our life, health, and reason, we look upon ourselves as under no obligation.”

— Marcus Annaeus Seneca

A lodge is more than just bricks, mortar, stone, steel, or a structure. It is a body of men, united in the common purpose of brotherly love, relief and truth. Yet, without the physical structure it may soon wither and die, becoming one of the hundreds that close each year.

The St Thomas Lodge Number 4338 exists, in large measure, because of this building here at Stanton, outside Morant Bay, St Thomas.

We come to this building each month. We share friendships here, we eat and drink here, we perform our ceremonies here, yet do we think of the builder? Do we honour the builder?

There are very few of us in this room this afternoon who knew Worshipful Brother The Honourable Isaac Matalon. I certainly did not know him.

There are only a few of us in this room this afternoon who were born when he was initiated. I certainly was not born at that time.

Isaac Joseph Matalon was born on 30 December 1916, in the middle of the First World War to Joseph and Florizel Matalon in Kingston.

Joseph and Florizel had 11 children — seven boys and four girls. These were Isaac, Aaron, Moses, Mayer, Eli, Owen and Vernon, and Pauline, Leah, Gloria and Adele.

Contrary to popular myths, Isaac was not born into a wealthy family. His father Joseph was born in Damascus in 1875. He left Damascus for Jerusalem where he trained in textiles. In 1899 he moved to Mexico where he spent 10 years.

In 1909 Joseph left Mexico to visit his eldest sister in Cuba, but stopped off in Jamaica to visit his younger brother Moses, who had migrated to Jamaica a few years earlier. He never left.

Life was very tough for him. He commenced business in St Thomas. However, he contracted malaria and moved to Kingston and then Chapelton. He left Chapelton and moved to Falmouth and in 1922 moved back to Kingston. Things did not work out in Kingston, so he moved back to Falmouth.

The next stop on his journey was Montego Bay. But Montego Bay was another disaster as his businesses were twice flooded out and he eventually became bankrupt. It was into this family that Isaac was born.

Isaac attended Jamaica College, Munro and Wolmer’s Boys’ School. His parents later sent him to the American University in Beirut, that is after he had worked for a while in Panama with the Panama Canal Company.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he joined the British Army, eventually rising to the rank of major in the Intelligence Corps of the British Eighth Army. This was the same Eighth Army commanded by Fidel Marshall Bernard Montgomery, later first Viscount Montgomery and who was succeeded by Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese.

Upon his discharge from the army at the end of the Second World War, Isaac returned to Jamaica. By this time his father, Joseph, had died. He died in 1944 while on a trip to New York, USA. He was 69 at the time of his death.

Isaac joined the family business, Matalon and Company. He married Evelyn, who was a Mordecai. He eventually left Kingston and moved to St Thomas to manage Stanton Estate, which was owned by Ivy and Pearl Mordecai. At that time it was primarily a banana estate.

After Hurricane Charlie in 1951, Isaac also managed Springfield Farm in St Thomas.

When Serge Island collapsed as a sugar estate, he bought it and converted it to a dairy farm. To this day it still operates as a dairy farm, such was his golden touch.

His list of accomplishments is long and impressive. He was a justice of the peace; a member of the Senate from 1968 to 1972; and Custos Rotolorum for St Thomas between 1976 and 1996. In 1998 he was made a Commander of the Order of Distinction.

Isaac Matalon was initiated in the St Thomas Lodge on September 12, 1950. One Worshipful Brother Dr Aubrey Jacobs was then the Master of the Lodge.

In 1957, Brother Isaac Matalon was installed as the Master of the St Thomas Lodge. Ultimately, he was awarded the rank of Past District Senior Grand Warden.

The Masonic Temple at Stanton is built on land donated by Worshipful Brother Isaac Matalon. During the construction he was the chief builder.

A man whose generosity knew no bounds, Isaac Matalon died on 12 October 1998.

A few paragraphs from an article in the Daily Gleaner of 11 November 1996 best sums up his life and his work.

“It is not often that persons who have made an outstanding contribution to their communities are given the recognition they deserve while alive.

“So residents of St Thomas decided to show their appreciation and affection for former custos of the parish Isaac Joseph Matalon and his wife Evelyn, on Saturday afternoon.

“Dignitaries who attended the function of appreciation, held at the Masonic Temple, Stanton, Morant Bay, were headed by Governor General Sir Howard Cooke and Lady Cooke and included Reverend Leonard Saunders, Custos of St Thomas; Mayor of Morant Bay, Hamilton Dawkins; custodes from other parishes, as well as business and civic leaders from St Thomas.

“In his address, Sir Howard referred to Mr Matalon as ‘Zackie’, describing the former custos as a man of moral rectitude, who was always ready to help the dispossessed and bring relief to those who were burdened with life’s bad experiences.”.

At the service of thanksgiving for the life and work of Hon Isaac Joseph Matalon CD, JP on Wednesday 14 October, 1998 at the Synagogue on Duke Street, Kingston in the remembrance given by Ainsley Henriques, his stepson, it was said: “He thought he could make the Guinness Book of Records as the Jew who had contributed to the building of the most churches”.

He gave, and gave, and gave. He has given the St Thomas Lodge this building.

It is your legacy. What will you do with it?

Let his memory and his work not be forgotten. “Let us praise famous men.”

I urge the members of the St Thomas Lodge, in very short order, to name this building the Isaac Joseph Matalon Masonic Temple and to do so while his widow, Evelyn, is still alive. To do so will be a fitting memorial to him who gave so much for his beloved St Thomas Lodge.

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