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Obituary - Rachel Page (Pagey) Elliott

IT WAS in May 1976 that we first met Pagey Elliot, and that initial introduction led to a friendship that has prevailed over the past 33 years, and which was interspersed with regular visits and correspondence to each other.

Pagey was the quintessential ‘Yankee’ and as New England as you could possibly get. Born in 1913 in Lexington, Massachusetts, she virtually lived all her life in that New England area that was the cradle of American independence. Her family tree via her maiden name of Webster originated in the roots of the Pilgrim Fathers who came to the shores of New England in 1620. She also was a direct descendant of Daniel Webster, the very talented lawyer, orator, and US senator of the early nineteenth century, whom many claim was possibly the finest American president they never had. Perhaps this is where her skill in oratory was inherited from.

Her family home for many years was the early 18th Century colonial farmhouse in Carlisle, Massachusetts, which ultimately became the place to visit if you had an interest in horses or dogs, and particularly if Golden Retrievers were your breed. Indeed on our first visit there she said to us: ‘To be someone in New England you have to have a horse or a Golden Retriever, I guess you make the grade!’

Renowned for their warm hospitality and lively discussions, Mark and Pagey Elliot had been hosts to an army of dog enthusiasts over their many years’ residence at River Road Farm. The main beneficiaries being those of the Golden Retriever fraternity, and we were privileged to experience such wonderful hospitality and spirited discussions on the occasions we visited their home.

She was a graduate of Radcliffe, the renowned ladies faculty of Harvard University. Graduating in the early 1930s in German Literature and fine art. Pagey ultimately pursued a career in social work, becoming renowned for her talents in counselling work. An accomplished horsewoman from her youth, dogs and horses were always part of life for Pagey. However, her real interest in the showing and competing with dogs in obedience didn’t really materialise until she met her husband, Mark.
Mark arrived from Atlanta, Georgia, to set up his dental practice in New England, he had as one of his first patients a certain Rachel Page Webster. On completing her first appointment for her dental treatment Pagey exclaimed to her friends: ‘That’s the guy I am going to marry!’ Mark didn’t stand a chance, and Doc Elliot, the Southern gentleman from Atlanta, willingly surrendered to the irrepressible Yankee.

Page’s marked contribution to the canine world really commenced with the publication of her book, Dogsteps - Illustrated Gait at a Glance, in 1973. It became a bestseller, winning the Dog Writers Association of America for best book of the year. She attributed its publication to her skill as a horsewoman and her curiosity as to why some horses were more comfortable mounts than others. This coupled with a judge’s comments regarding the smooth gait of her Golden Retriever prompted her to further investigation. A movie camera was purchased and she started filming the gait of all kinds of dogs. This ultimately materialised into an international lecture career.

With her trusted camera she became known as the polite lady who asked if she could film your dog, as it had an interesting fault she would like to record. Also, if you received an invitation to River Road Farm, with the rider, ‘Oh bring your dog along,’ you could rest assured that your dog would be filmed for analytical purposes during your visit. You would think that such approaches would be fraught with friction, but in the many years we have known Pagey we were not aware of any such dog owners taking offence at her request. This was part of the magic in the character that was Pagey Elliot.
She became a talented, knowledgeable lecturer on canine structure and movement. Her reputation was such that she received invitations to present her lectures from all over the globe. It is our opinion, and indeed that of many others, that she set the benchmark for the ultimate in seminars. Her accomplishments did not go unnoticed as she was twice named the USA ‘Dogdoms Woman of the Year’. The Golden Retriever Club of America honoured her by dedicating two of their National Specialities to her, and added further recognition with the club creating the Page Elliot Educational Fund. The AKC followed these honours by her breed club by making her the first recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award in conformation.

Her reputation as a soft spoken lady of fearsome integrity endeared her to all, and it was therefore no surprise when she was invited to be the guest speaker at the BVA conference at Lancaster University. A challenge to many lesser mortals, but Pagey was very much up to the task and despite technical problems with the film projector, an attentive and respectful audience responded by giving her a standing ovation.

She also stole the show at the SKC centenary celebrations in 1981 where she was the crème de la crème of the assembled panel of lecturers. We think it is fair to say that on this occasion even her fellow lecturers recognised that her performance exemplified a quality that was beyond their respected ability.

Her determination and application to the task in hand really surfaced on a lecture visit to Norway, where on descending from the platform to take up her position beside the film projector, she took a fall which resulted in her fracturing her hip. She insisted on completing her two-hour lecture prior to her hospitalisation, leaving her audience in awe of her brave performance.

Age did not limit Pagey in her pursuits. In 2002, in her late eighties, she took up competing in agility with her Golden Retriever, displaying an enthusiasm that was an example to all. She also embraced the successful making and designing of wooden jigsaw puzzles under her established trademark of ‘Pagemark’. The quality of her jigsaws was such that they became greatly sought after. When one of her jigsaws attracted a record bid of $27,000 at auction, it was rewarded with an entry in the Guinness Book of records. Her new pursuits at such a mature age rubbish the myth that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

With her regular letter at Christmas came a copy of her most recent book, From Hoofbeats to Dogsteps. An autobiography of compulsive reading that portrayed the pioneering spirit of the genes that were part of Pagey’s make-up. Her handwritten letter conveyed to us in its contents that her strength was ebbing and that this was possibly her last ‘letter from America’ to us. Sadly, that was to be the case.

To us Pagey will always be Mrs All-American; a gracious, gentle woman, a devoted wife and mother, a legend in her chosen breed, embodying the very best of traditional American values, coupled with a sense of humour and small town ordinariness that endeared her to all. She was charm itself with that politeness of a bygone era, and was a lady you could never forget. Her intellect, her wit, and the sheer determination with which she embraced life were invariably impressive. She will be greatly missed by her family and all who were privileged to know her.

John & Jess Clark

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