Paul Underwood ('74) grew up the youngest of 13 children in a blue-collar home in Hillsboro. When he was 3, his father passed away, and even working three jobs, his mother struggled to make ends meet for her three boys still living at home.
His father had belonged to the Fraternity of Freemasons, and a few years after his passing, a few Masons from Hillsboro Lodge 196 visited Underwood's mother offering to send him and his two older brothers to the Fort Worth-based Masonic Home and School of Texas. She agreed, and Underwood attended the school from the time he was 10 until he was 18.
It was a tough decision, but one that paid off. Though his mother had only a sixth-grade education, and his father never learned to read or write, Underwood internalized the many lessons of self-sufficiency the Masonic Home imparted, going on to become a college graduate.
"Going to that school truly did, emotionally, physically and financially, save my life," says Underwood, who earned his accounting degree from North Texas' College of Business in 1974. "It instilled in me that education is how you overcome poverty, and I knew I did not want to live the way I did before I went to that place."
Even as a commuter student, Underwood relished campus life at UNT. Though he was an accounting major, he also loved music, and enrolled in some of the iconic 'Fessor Graham's music appreciation classes. He spent time in the Union between classes, drinking coffee and enjoying the camaraderie of the other students coming and going.
"I just felt really honored to have the privilege of going to North Texas," says Underwood, who went on to earn a B.B.A. in accounting and serve as senior auditor for the Texas Comptroller's office.
And he wanted to afford others the opportunity to pursue their dreams. That's why, at 21, Underwood joined the Masonic fraternity, becoming part of Mesquite Lodge No. 928. The Freemasons belong to one of the world's oldest and largest fraternal organizations and are committed to the individual growth of its members, as well as philanthropic causes such as supporting children's health through groups like the Shrine Masons and Scottish Rite Masons, and scholarship programs.
"Even going to the Masonic school, I didn't really know what a Mason was," says Underwood, who played on the school's "Mighty Mites" football team, immortalized in Jim Dent's book Twelve Mighty Orphans that was recently adapted into a film starring Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen. "I was a silent beneficiary of this group that didn't expect any recognition in return. As I got older, I realized any organization that would help children the way they helped me has to be a darn good organization."
As he rose through the ranks in his professional career, he simultaneously became a leader in the Masons. He has served at various lodges in positions including president. As a graduate of the Masonic Home and School, which closed in 2005, he was involved in the Masonic Ex-Students Association, serving as president in 2008.
In 2017, Underwood was elected grand junior warden, which led to roles as grand senior warden and deputy grand master. This year, he was elected to serve as the fraternity's 185th grand master, the highest rank in the organization. He's the fourth Masonic Home and School alumnus to ever fill that role.
"What has driven me in this fraternity is to do what I could to give back to this wonderful organization a little of what it gave to me," Underwood says. "We collectively work to better ourselves and leave the world a bit better than we found it."