IT IS with enormous personal sadness that I have learned of the passing of Margaret Norman following a fairly short battle against pancreatic cancer.
Such was the esteem in which this doyenne of the Sheltie world was held that this news will be met with a great deal of shock across the pedigree dog world and within Sheltie circles in particular. It was as recent as 15th February this year that Margaret was told of the severity of her illness and how little could be done to prolong her life. She faced this awfulness with a bravery and stoicism at which I could only marvel and admire.
Margaret was born and raised in Surrey and from an early age she was besotted by the Sheltie, acquiring her first one as a very young girl. She went on to achieve huge successes as a breeder and exhibitor, making up 29 Champions including the gorgeous blue merle, Ch Fancehill Ice Maiden (BIS winner at Windsor in 2007 under Dan Ericsson), Ch Francehill Total Eclipse (the BIS winner at the Working & Pastoral Breeds of Scotland 2006 under Gordon Rual), and just recently Margaret won BIS again, this time at the Working & Pastoral Breeds of Wales Ch show when her last Champion, Ch Francehill Two Tone, won under Andrew Brace. Two Tone was also BIS at the Centenary Ch Show of the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club held earlier this year.
With her untimely passing, the British pedigree dog scene has lost one of its true free
spirits. A lady possessing enormous charm who had a unique personal mixture of dedication, creative energy and sheer human kindness added to which she displayed true sportsmanship in her beloved hobby. I have known no-one who could be so dignified in defeat whilst being so genuinely generous with her congratulations and praise to any who beat her. Many could take a lesson from her.
Margaret had an army of friends and admirers both in this country and far beyond. She was not one to rest on her laurels but was always questioning, never predictable, endlessly encouraging the creativity and success of others and she derived great enjoyment from their wins.
Margaret was so gifted with the written word and she wrote possibly the best book published to date on her beloved breed, The Complete Shetland Sheepdog, a richly educational tome worthy of being on every pedigree dog lovers’ bookshelf. She was totally dedicated to her family of Shelties and they lived a superb life with her at Hilltop House, Spofforth, in Yorkshire. They all had turns to live in the house, enjoyed acres of free space in which to play and chase rabbits, and few dogs will have enjoyed such love and devotion from their owners as the Francehills did.
When she learned of her illness, one of Margaret’s first thoughts was to ensure that she had just the right home for each of her beloved dogs. She went about that task diligently and with enormous care, trying to fit in each charge with just the right person, which she did. The dogs remained at Spofforth until just a few days ago.
Away from the dogs themselves, Margaret had been married twice. Firstly to our own Robin Searle (they were highly successful showing Borzois as well as the Shelties) and they had two wonderful children, their son Rennie (who sadly died whilst just a young man) and April of whom Margaret was justifiably proud.
Later she married Jimmy Norman and when asked by the late Misses Beryl and Joan Herbert (Shelert Shelties) to join them at Spofforth, they accepted so that Margaret could assist the two sisters in coping with what was still a large kennel. Margaret cared for both sisters until they died, Joan predeceasing Beryl by quite a few years. Jimmy died a number of years later.
Apart from her Shelties Margaret’s other loves included car boot sales and she could regale you for hours on the many characters she met and bargains she un-earthed whilst enjoying that part of her life. She also had a penchant for fine porcelain and she and Jimmy had collected some choice pieces from which they derived huge pleasure.
Ever-independent Margaret single handedly maintained the grounds at Spofforth superbly well, driving the sit on mower with great aplomb, wielding enormous electric clippers to keep the lengthy beech hedging immaculately manicured and caring for her chickens and the white doves which lived the life of luxury there. She was a great hostess having a ready wit, a wicked sense of humour and was blessed with that beguiling smile which charmed all who got to know her. So it becomes easy to understand why an invitation to stay at Spofforth was something to be anticipated and so enjoyed - providing you did not mind losing at Scrabble!
The last time I spoke to Margaret was when her Ch Two Tone won his BIS under Andrew. Although so ill that she could not attend the show herself (he was taken there and handled by Rosalie Brady), Margaret phoned to give me the news of the big win. She was utterly thrilled and modestly quipped: ‘The Francehills can’t be that bad, can they?’ I could almost see that wide smile of happiness.
In addition to April, Margaret leaves her two sisters (one in New Zealand and the other in England) and her great friend Petter Fodstad who has been with her for several months and who has been her mainstay during her illness. He has been quite magnificent in his care of Margaret and each time I spoke to her she said she could not find words rich enough to praise him. April, her aunts and Petter will all be aware of the huge affection we had for Margaret and know that we share their grief.
So, the first lady of the Sheltie world has gone and I know I speak for many, many people when I say her loss is huge but she has left us with a rich tapestry of memories which, in moments of quiet reflection, will allow us the joy of recalling one who truly was an English gentlewoman in every sense of the word.
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Thank you for this tribute to my aunt. she was a wonderful person who was the definition of vivacious. Her humour was legendary in our family as well as her ability to tell a good story.
What is perhaps not apprecaiated is just how hard she worked for her beloved shelties. She was a great a achiever because of this and she has done a great deal for the breed of the Shetland Sheepdog.
She is much missed.
PS - She was born in Durban, South Africa and came to Britain with her sisters in 1939, due to her father re-joining the RAF as an officer on the eve of WWII.
I was very saddened to hear the news about Margaret. I have two beautiful Franchill shelties who attract compliments every day. I loved visiting the kennels, seeing the dogs clustered at the fence, barking a welcome and chasing each other round - they had a wonderful life with her. I shall always remember her - for her humour, kindness, elegance, directness, no-nonsense approach. She led a wonderfully interesting life with her beloved dogs and I feel privileged to have met her.
I agree entirely with every word....Margaret will be sadly missed and I am so happy that myself and sister had the freat pleasure of meeting her and her lovely shelties...We own Francehills and love them and I do hope the breed and name does not die out...We also have the book that Margaret wrote and she gladly signed it for us...You will be missed Margaret,,more than you could have ever imagined...
Very sad as only just heard this lady had passed away.
I had always hoped to purchase a Francehill Sheltie once my old Rough Collie who is aged thirteen had passed on. Who I wonder will be carrying on her line they were so very striking a kennel.
I lived next to Margo for many years and I was very happy to stumble across this. She is greatly missed in Spofforth. Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing. I used to look after the dogs when Margo had to go out. It has to be one of the favorite jobs I've ever had.
A wonderful lady, greatly missed.
I own a Francehill Sheltie, now known as Rupert, he is a pure heaven sent gift by way of Margaret Norman and Debbie from Harrogate. We will be for ever greatful to this lady who promised me the most beautiful creature and she was right!
So very sad to hear of her passing but she will most definitely live on through her shelties!
Thanks are not enough!
Our little holly came from Margaret,s establibment. She was definately, a one of kind person, very knowledgeble person with time to spare to talk to you without been condersending. Condolances and love to remaining relative. Richard Evans and Little Holly