Thelma Gray

Obituary by John Holmes*)

Thelma GrayThe death of Thelma Gray brings back vivid memories of a remarkable person and an era now gone.

In 1932 I wrote to Sid Bowler of Haverfordwest asking for particulars of the Welsh Corgi, about which I had been reading. I also wrote asking the same questions to Miss Thelma Evans of the Rozavel kennels, who was the leading pioneer outside Wales. And I asked them both if they had any bitch puppies for sale and at what price.

Thelma wrote a long, informative letter and offered me a bitch puppy for three guineas. Sid Bowler had less to say but offered me a bitch puppy for two guineas and a stud service to his winning dog Bowhit Prince (later to become a champion) for £1. This seemed a better bargain and I became the proud owner of a brindle and white bitch puppy which I registered as Nippy of Drumharrow.

After she had her litter to Prince I wrote to Thelma asking if she would mate her to winning dog Crymmych President for a puppy in lieu of stud fee. She replied saying that she could not accept a puppy from President but that she had a promising son of his and she would be pleased to accept a puppy by him. His name was Rozavel Red Dragon and he had already mated two bitches, one of which had produced five puppies, four with bob tails.

Nippy of Drumharrow

Thelma was very impressed when she saw Nippy and asked for a bitch puppy which was to become Ch. Rozavel Gwyneth. Nippy was always Dragon's favourite 'wife' and she produced nearly 40 puppies by him. I also bred from her daughter by Bowhit Prince and Thelma bought a great many puppies from me at much better prices than I could have obtained in Scotland.

Rozavel Gwyneth
Ch. Rozavel Gwyneth

She once told me that from the description I gave her she could tell exactly what the puppy was like before taking it out of the box. This, I regarded as a great compliment.

It was not until 1936 that I met Thelma at Perth championship show which was offering CC's for the breed. The judge was Rosemary Early (Cogges), now Rosemary Lee and a very good friend who now lives quite near us. She had driven all the way from Witney in Oxfordshire in a Baby Austin.

Baby Austin
Baby Austin 7

This was the first time I had ever seen a Corgi other than my own and I was somewhat dismayed to see in the catalogue that the great Thelma Evans had entries in every class. However, to my surprise and delight Nippy won the C.C. - the only brindle Pem ever to do so. Thelma, always ready to help a novice, advised me to show her at more championship shows and she subsequently won two reserve CC's before showing was stopped by the war.

By the time the war was over I had moved to England and Thelma and I met frequently at shows, as members of the committee of the Welsh Corgi League and at training classes run by the late Bob and Audrey Montgomery (my mentors in obedience training) at Guildford.

Although Thelma trained her own dogs to novice standard and took a succession of youngsters to training classes, it was Audrey Montgomery who trained both her Corgis and Alsatians for competitions and trials.

Thelma had a great aversion to colour bars in all breeds of dogs. At one time she bred white Alsatians and tried very hard, but unsuccessfully, to have them officially recognised.

When the Pem Corgi standard was being revised the League proposed that brindle should be left out of the list of desirable colours. This got Thelma really hot under the collar. Like her, I regarded the arguments for this move to be quite ridiculous. On top of which all the brindle Pembrokes were descended from Nippy of Drumharrow!

After many heated, sometimes bitter arguments, we forced a referendum of the League membership. And we lost. Brindle is not a disqualification only a fault, but the result of the ruling is that there have been none of that colour around for many years.

It was after that that Thelma set about reviving the blue merle Cardigan Corgi which had become almost extinct. Here she had much better luck than she had with the brindle Pem or the White Alsatian.

When I gave up showing I more or less lost touch with Thelma until my wife and I went to Australia in 1979. We met her at the Melbourne Royal where she was both exhibiting and judging, but still found time to explain the 'dog scene' down under.

We stayed for a time near Adelaide with Jackie Trough ton, who had worked with us before emigrating. She took us to visit the Rozavel Kennels situated in the hills above Adelaide. There were only two Corgis (one bred by the Queen) but lots of Beagles and Chihuahuas and a few Rotties. When we decided to import an Australian Cattle dog Thelma "vetted it for us".

During our second visit to Australia in 1983 we visited an open air show near Adelaide. At these shows everyone arrives early, pitches their tent and settles down for the day. We knew Thelma was to be there and found her and Jeremy with their tent surrounded by a 'run' which seemed to contain dozens of Chihuahuas.

The Chi classes did not start till later which gave us time for a long and reminiscent talk of days gone by. We both particularly remembered the row about the brindles and both still agreed that to penalise any colour which is already accepted in a breed is a step in the wrong direction.

After we came home again Jackie phoned to say that Thelma was in hospital where she had visited her and got the impression that she was pretty bad. She than rang to say that she had gone home but the doctors only gave her a couple of months to live. I then telephoned her and was surprised by her cheerfulness.

She told me that she had found homes for all her Beagles and Corgis and all the Rotties except two which Jeremy was keeping. So long as she could go to shows she was keeping most of the Chi's but had arranged for homes for all of them to go to. She had also arranged for where Jeremy was going to live and, far from feeling sorry for herself, seemed really pleased that she had been given time to sort everything out.

When I phoned again after her two months had elapsed she was just as cheerful and said, jokingly. "They're not finding it easy to get rid of me!" Then we heard that she had gone back into hospital for what looked like the last time.

Rosemary Lee, who has a daughter and grandchildren in Australia had gone there for Christmas. One of her first missions was to go to visit Thelma in hospital. Alas, two days before Rosemary was due to leave we had a phone call from Jackie to say that Thelma had died peacefully during the night.

No one tried harder to win than Thelma Gray but I never heard her complain when she was losing - right to the end. A remarkable person whom I feel privileged to have been able to count as one of my friends.

*) John Holmes (1913-2000), Formakin Pembrokes

Published in Dog World and reproduced in The Welsh Corgi League Handbook 1985.