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Harry Baxter

Harry Baxter in typical pose

Harry Baxter, long-time writer and friend of OUR DOGS, died at home on April 29th following a short illness.

Amongst the many scores of cards received with a touch of amusement during the illness were those from successful exhibitors introduced to showing through the ringcraft class he staged in Nelson for 20 years. Amusement for Harry because he showed very little and judged even less. The dogs he showed and those he judged at Crufts - Lancashire Heelers, Bouvier des Flandres, Australian Cattle Dogs, Otterhounds - illustrated the breadth of his interest and knowledge of dogs, recognised abroad by appointments in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. It did not stop there. Although he never kept many dogs he showed a Clumber Spaniel to win the Res CAC in Copenhagen, a black and tan Griffon Bruxellois to Res CC level here, an Australian Cattle Dog to Best AVNSC Working at Blackpool, where he had to cancel his appointment to judge a handful of non CC breeds later this year.

Harry thought of himself as a student of dogs. It was that view that led to his writing for OUR DOGS and from that to writing for magazines in France, Holland and Russia. In recent years he edited the English Language edition of Raymond Triquet’s classic ‘Le Dogue de Bordeaux’ and the Dutch Kennel Club’s centenary celebration publication, ‘The Dutch Breeds’, the first in English. His role as editor of the first Eurodogs provided the opportunity to write about the breeds he encountered on his sorties in Europe and occasionally to express his view that some magnificent breeds he admired were not suited to introduction here.

It might be thought that he came from a ‘doggy’ family. Not at all. His childhood pleas to own one met with incomprehension and flat refusal. It was 1954 before he owned his first pedigree dog, a Shih Tzu from Mrs Widdrington’s ‘Lhakang’ kennel. His last, which died in February aged 16 and 14, traced their origins right back to ‘Lhakang’.

Education was his second passion. Following it was not conducive to pursuit of his first. Shortly after adult baptism and confirmation in St Catherine’s Anglo-Catholic Church, Burnley, he joined the Universities Mission to Central Africa and went to train teachers in Tanzania. Responsibility there extended from the college to primary and middle schools, a tailor’s shop, a joiners, maintenance of sixteen miles of dirt road essential to connection with the nearest small town. There he learned to live without electricity, water pumped by a ram from the river, and no telephone, which maybe accounted for his aversion to all modern technology maintained to his death. He wouldn’t even have a fax machine when it was offered by OUR DOGS!

That first tour of almost four years earned a home leave of six months, spent at Columbia Teachers’ College, New York and the two passions came together, his one visit to Westminster, Chicago and New Jersey were in his opinion more illustrative of strength of breed competition. Reports on these shows were his first published in England - but in Dog World.

Tour no 2 brought fresh experiences and responsibilities - visiting justice at the local prison supervising the weekly floggings, supervising youngsters working for VSO, and during a drought arranging transport of water from the river to the college and to the girls’ middle school and the bodies of passengers caught up in a level crossing disaster, brought about by a bus driver boasting that he could beat the train.

Then came Africanisation of colleges and return to Britain, brief before taking up a job teaching Swahili to Danish teachers, nurses, farmers, co-operative organisers, all going to work in Kenya and Tanzania and Uganda sponsored by the Department of Oversea’s Development.

Back in England he found it difficult to reconcile lack of commitment to education with memory of youngsters who walked up to five miles, sheltered only by a banana leaf during the rainy seasons.

He resigned and gave up more time to work with breed clubs, the Northern Counties Shih Tzu Club and the Otterhound Club.

When the hunting of otters ceased - voluntarily - the Otterhound Club was founded. A year later Harry became Hon Secretary, a post he filled for ten years. At the time of his death he was Chairman. The two passions were brought together again. He spent a great deal of time writing and teaching about the breeds. When he died his greatest regret was being unable to fulfil his engagement to speak at the Hound Association’s Symposium for fast-track judges in March and not to be able to see hounds at Crufts. Having a hound he had exercised throughout the year return a UK champion was one of his greatest pleasures
The funeral was held on May 6th at St Catherine’s Church, Burnley, Lancashire.

Bill Moores writes:- the death of Harry Baxter has robbed OUR DOGS and the world of dogs of a quiet and unassuming literary giant whose encyclopaedic knowledge was freely given and used to educate others and usually present the alternative view.

His Matters Arising contributions were always thought provoking and invariably hit the nail on the head. His was a narrative style that was born of a wealth of experience in both life and in dogs that combined to illustrate his point.

I first met Harry in the late 1970s when he met the then Editor Richard Marples at the OUR DOGS office to discuss the future of the otterhound in view of the voluntary suspension of otter hunting. When the club was formed Richard Marples became a vice president for many years in view of the part played by OUR DOGS and in other ways to ‘save’ the breed and bring it to K C recognition, acceptance and registration.

Having been ‘in the chair’ at OUR DOGS for only one year in 1988, I was invited to attend the Otterhound Club’s first championship show at Baginton Village Hall, near Coventry. It was a modest affair but one that bore Harry’s stamp with distinguished guests such as John Bell-Irving of the famous Dumfriesshire pack family and the formidable Mary Roslin-Williams whose late husband James also had a close association with the breed from the days of the Lilymere estate, near Sedbergh. The salad lunch was the most entertaining and enlightening affair of what was a dreary, wet summer’s day!

His contribution to the Eurodogs section of the paper was a major factor in its continuing success. When abroad he was always courteous and helpful to others to such an extent that some took advantage of his kind nature. After the fall of communism over ten years ago, his trips to Russia were recorded in these pages and his many contacts were used to open up and bring the ‘western’ world of pedigree dogs to those who had spent years in austerity but who were, nevertheless, hungry for knowledge and information. It was obvious that he was held in high esteem by those who met him overseas.

It was with sadness that I last spoke face to face with him at the ringside at the Paris International show last November and that for the first time I saw, first hand, the early stages of speech and recall problems that beset him in the last months of his life.

Remarkably, he still managed to send in a contribution for publication in January but sadly its follow up was never to be. despite obvious difficulties he continued to support the breed note columns for both Otterhounds and Shih Tzus. He even attended the Otterhound Hound Club AGM in April.

I spoke to him in the last weeks of his life on several occasions, sometimes in the evenings when after a day’s sleep he felt better, and he never lost his wry sense of humour. One day he said, ‘ . . . let me be honest with you, I never felt worse . . !’ ‘ You have always been honest to me, Harry,’ I replied. ‘Yes I know,’ he said, ‘ . . . and rude, too,’ was his reply!