The Thomson Award was designed by direction of Brother Robert L. Dluge, Jr., Right Worshipful Grand Master, 2000-2001.
It was formally adopted by resolution in Grand Lodge on December 8, 2000. It is a sterling silver cup, handcrafted by Wendell August Forge of Grove City, Pennsylvania. It bears a unique emblem which combines the square and compasses, the first aid cross, and the keystone, thematically portraying the themes of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. This emblem is joined with the seal of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania by a cabletow, the age-old symbol of the distance a Mason is to go in service to his fellowman.
Officially titled “The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Thomson Award for Saving A Human Life,” it is presented by the Right Worshipful Grand Master to a member of the fraternity who was primarily responsible for saving the life of a fellow human being. This is not necessarily a reward for a highly dramatic rescue, although it is in the Masonic character for personal safety to be cast aside in order to aid another in distress. Heroism and valor are often the products of preparedness and opportunity. While saving the life of a fellow human being may involve risk, strength, and courage, more often it is a result of the knowledge and practice of basic first aid and rescue skills.
The Award is named for Brother John Thomson, a Past Master of Lodge No. 51, Philadelphia, who served as Right Worshipful Grand Master in 1861-1862. A common man with little schooling, he developed a respected trade as a cooper, learning the intricacies of barrel and tub construction from an apprenticeship with his father. Lack of formal education was no hindrance to him, for he became a very successful businessman and leader in Philadelphia. John Thomson’s long record of service to the Craft is unmatched by any other man in the history of the Grand Lodge. Born in 1799, he was proud of the fact that he was, for four months of his infancy, contemporary to that illustrious Brother and First President of our Nation, George Washington. He petitioned for membership on the twenty-second day of March 1827, and was entered into the Fraternity by the officers of Lodge No. 51 during the height of the Anti-Masonic period. During his Masonic career, Brother Thomson met in three different Masonic Halls owned by the Grand Lodge, and was well acquainted with the financing and details of the construction of the Temple at One North Broad Street that we now enjoy. Throughout his sixty-three year tenure of membership, he served as a Lodge officer for twenty-six years, and a Grand Lodge officer for thirty years. In fact, Brother Thomson was the only individual to ever serve in all six elected offices of the Grand Lodge:
Grand Treasurer from 1842 to 1853 Deputy Grand Master in 1859 and 1860 Junior Grand Warden in 1856 and 1857
Grand Master in 1861 and 1862 Senior Grand Warden in 1858 Grand Secretary from 1867-1880
Brother Thomson’s incomparable Masonic record of service might well have been enough to warrant the distinction of attaching his name to this award, but a singular incident in his life deserves particular notice: he was “publicly acclaimed” and cited by the Humane Society of Philadelphia for saving several persons from drowning in the Delaware River.
Four of Thomson’s sons, also were members of Lodge No. 51, one of whom provided this personal recollection, which is on file in the archives of the Grand Lodge:
“Born August 14th, 1799, Penn St. and Lombard in the old City limits. Learned the trade of Oak Cooper which he afterwards conducted successfully. His occupation, requiring his presence on the wharves, frequently gave him many opportunities to rescue persons from drowning who had been misfortunate enough to fall in the docks, and for these services the Humane Society presented him with a Silver Cup”