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Obituary - Mrs Audrey Woodiwiss (Duroya)

Audrey WoodiwissIt is with great sadness that we must report the death of one of the doyennes of the Keeshond breed. Audrey Woodiwiss, owner of the world renowned Duroya kennels and one of the most influential and best respected Keeshond breeders of all time, passed away peacefully on the 24th January 2008 in the Leicester Royal Infirmary, aged 97. She had suffered increasing ill health for many years which had forced her give up her active participation in the breed more than a decade ago.

Her fondness for dogs was kindled at a very young age, when aged about five she witnessed a litter being whelped under the dining room table at her parents’ home during afternoon tea.
Tragically she was widowed early in life and she had no children from her short marriage to husband Roy. This intensified her interest in dogs, initially with Old English Sheepdogs, and then in the mid 1950s, when she felt she should have something a little smaller and more manageable, she chose a Keeshond from Fred and Nan Greenwood’s Wistonia kennels.

She was justifiably proud of being the breeder or owner of some 23 Champion Keeshonds during her career, with key exports going inter alia to America, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and South Africa, but without doubt pride of place in her heart went to Commandant of Duroya (Ch Kester of Wendees x Duroya Beatrix: 1960 – 1974). He was a grandson of the dog which she regarded as the most outstanding Keeshond of all time, Int Ch Wrocky of Wistonia. Commandant himself was no showman. He did get one CC with BOB, when only eight months old, and three RCCs, but his outstanding contribution to the breed came from him being such a dominant stud dog. He sired a record 18 champions, 12 in the UK and six who gained their titles overseas. He won the Top Stud dog of the year award more times than can be remembered. His influence cannot be overstated and his descendants can be found the world over. He had champions in the first litter that he sired and in the last, which he sired at the grand old age of 13. Audrey had one superb photograph of him in an ideal show stance which she regularly used in adverts; however what was not obvious in the picture was the bitch in season just out of the frame!

Proud though she rightly was of what Duroya bred dogs achieved in the ring, with her kennel winning the Keeshond Club’s Norton Rose Bowl and the North of England’s Kultz Trophy on innumerable occasions, this was not her prime motivation.

She regularly awarded CCs in Keeshonds and judged the Championship Shows of both the Keeshond Club and the North of England Keeshond Club.

We first met Audrey in 1973, shortly after she and her sister had moved from Unstone near Sheffield to Leicester. Indeed the first Keeshond we ever saw was Commandant. After her normal interrogation process she agreed to sell us Final Edition of Duroya, from Commandant’s final litter (dam – Duroya Evergay). Her parting words were “You might have some fun if you decide to show him, although I am not sure that he will grow big enough.” We had a little red MG Midget sports car at the time, and that was a mode of transport of which she certainly did not approve for her dog! Anyway he did grow to size (and outgrew the MG) and went on to gain his title both in the UK and later in South Africa. Subsequently she let us have Duroya Indra of Vandersee who sadly was killed in a road accident shortly after gaining her JW, and as a replacement for her we had Duroya Josephine of Vandersee. She went on to gain her JW and her titles in both the UK and in South Africa, and, much to Audrey’s great delight, she took the Group and Res BIS at Birmingham National in 1979. Whilst we were living in South Africa from 1979 to 1989, she also sent out to us Duroya Leader of Vandersee who went on to gain his SA title.

Her closest associates with whom she collaborated in the breed were the likes of Peggy Blair (Vanglede), Molly Collins (Ven), Barbara Glover (Welford), Margo Emerson (Rhinevale), Margaret Foster (Thorsdale), Jean Hardcastle (Boreasvale) and Meryl Howard (Gezellin). Whilst Audrey cooperated closely in their and her breeding programmes, she was always her own woman and made all the final decisions herself. Indeed she was always forthright in expressing her opinions about anything to do with the breed. At times, many will have found her frank honesty difficult to accept, but her absolute integrity was never in doubt.

Audrey was always available to offer help and advice to novices and experienced dog owners alike. Certainly we will always be indebted to her for all the assistance which she gave us.
Typical of her concern for the wellbeing of the breed was her unstinting support of the various health initiatives, notably in the early years of the epilepsy screening programmes. Her down to earth and pragmatic approach to the breeding, rearing and owning of Keeshonds was an example to all.

She served on the committee of the Keeshond Club from the early 1960s and was the Newsletter editor from 1973 to 1987. She was appointed Vice President in 1987 and President in 1991. On her retirement as President in 1992 she was made an Honorary Life Member, an honour bestowed on her also by the North of England Keeshond Club. 1992 was also the year that she retired from active participation in the show scene.

It was very sad when failing health forced her to give up both her home and the last of her dogs in 1996. The dogs had been her constant companions and their loss must have created a very empty void in her life. She still however managed to make an appearance at the ringside of the North of England Keeshond Club’s Championship Show in 1999.

In compiling these notes about Audrey’s life and contribution to the world of Keeshonds we are indebted to the assistance of Jane Saunders, Elizabeth Howard, Pam Luckhurst, Jean Hardcastle and Norma Barnes.

Her passing certainly marks the end of an era in the history of the Keeshond breed both in the UK and around the world. It is incumbent on those of us who remain to continue to maintain her high standards of care of the breed to which she gave so much and which gave her so much in return.

Ian & Elaine Stubbings (Vandersee)