Expert’s Expert ,
by Doreen Kent
(november 1982 Gazette)
first appeared in the November 1982 AKC Gazette and is posted
on this site with permission." (AKC Gazette)
Based upon three days of
exposure to Major Thomas C. Hawley, I concluded that he is the
formost authority on Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the world today.
Those of you who disagree probably were not afforded the privilege
of watching this man judge and listening to him speak.
It’s been 19 years since Tom
Hawley judged the breed in this country. To a great many of
us who weren’t at the Rhodesian Ridgeback Specialty Show in
New York City in 1963, he has remained an enigma; indeed for
a few years after I obtained my first Ridgeback, I wondered
if he really existed! Maybe he was no more than a legend made
up a long time ago by a handful of Ridgeback fanciers. Perhapes
they wanted to make sure that future generations, like themselves,
never lost faith in the breed they selected.
In September, 1974, world travelled
quickly to the East Coast that Major Hawley was in Los Angeles
on personal business. By the time any of us figured out a way
to sponsor a trip East for him, he had already returned to his
home in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The only exposure the majority
of Rhodesian Ridgeback fanciers in the United States had to
this man was possession of a slim book authored by him in 1957.
My particular copy of that book was acquired the day I purchased
my first Ridgeback. His command of the English language in describing
the feats and ability of a Ridgeback goes beyond good writing
style – it’s pure poetry. The years since have weathered the
pages. Ball point pen margin notes, red line underscoring, scores
of pedigree notes only add to the character of this ”bible”
of Ridgeback knowledge. The contents have been memorized. And
the photos are permanently etched in grey matter. His efforts
to describe the breed in definitives have been waxed eloquent.
Each year the information contained in his book takes on new
meaning. May the day never come that I know it all. I reserve
that privilege for Major Hawley.
In 1977 we learned that Major
Hawley and his wife, ”Blackie” were leaving their lifetime home
in South Africa to resettle in Perth, Australia. Now the prospect
of ever getting to see this man seemed futile.
The year 1982 brought change
to the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States (RRCUS).
For the first time since early in the club’s history, we were
returning to one National Specialty a year. This year it was
to be held in Santa Barbara, CA. The Show Committee was hard
at work to ensure the biggest and best show the club had ever
The biggest draw for any dog
show is a good judge. Who to judge, that was the question. Margaret
Lowthian, one of the fortunate few who was ”there in 63”, piped
up at a Board of Directors’ meeting, ”How about Tom Hawley?”.
Reactions varied. Some said he was too old, others wondered
if he was still alive – it had been so long since any of us
heard any word about him. Could he still be judging Ridgebacks?
”Good God, Margaret, the man lives in Australia.”
After all the doubts were expressed,
it was decided to ”Go for it”. Going for it, however, was not
so easy. The communications, red tape, logistics, and general
problems solving might have discouraged a lesser person. But
Margaret Lowthian persevered, as she has never learned the meaning
of the word, ”no”. In April, 1982, the final stone was set in
place. It was official-Tom Hawley would judge the Rhodesian
Ridgeback entry at the 51st RRCUS National Specialty Show in
Santa Barbara, CA on July 29 and 30.
We didn’t know what to expect.
Australia was such a long way away. Would the plane trip be
too tiring? Was the entry too big – 174, a club record? Were
we expecting too much from a man whose age we were only guessing
at? Wasn’t it appropriate for a World Heavyweight Champion to
retire with his crown intact?
I clearly remember sitting at
ringside and seeing Major Hawley for the first time. He’s a
man of at least six feet tall and built like a good Ridgeback
– handsome and upstanding, strong and agile. A full head of
white hair and stell blue eyes, healthy complexion, and an easy
smile all but completed the picture. He wore a Safari style
suit and a floppy brimmed hat. He strode into the ring with
the conviction of a man who knew exactly what he was doing.
If any doubt existed in our minds as to his capabilities, they
were immidiately dispelled.
So many things about him impressed
me. Uppermost was his judging style. He told us later that he
trusts his eyes more than his hands. After all, what could be
hidden from a view on a Ridgeback? He used a point system, taking
notes on a clip board pad. He started his judging at the end
of the line and worked forward, moving dogs he liked up the
line as he proceeded. He told us that he started at the end
of the line because pushy people struggle to get into the ring
first. ”But the dogs came in in arm band order,” we reminded
him. He reminded us that arm band numbers are awarded according
to receipt of entry-first received, first armband numbers.
What did he want to see in a
Ridgeback? A chief concern was the ridge. He told us that we
had the best quality Ridgebacks in the world but the poorest
quality of ridges. The highest number of points, out of a possible
100, he awarded to any Ridgeback at the Specialty for the ridge
was 85. That was achieved by only two dogs. 25% of his entry
received between 75 and 85 pts. 30% received between 50-74,
and 45% below 50 points. He wanted a long ridge, starting at
the shoulders and ending at the hips. He looked for a fully
developed fan with two symmetrical crowns within that fan –
not attached to the top of it. He penalized narrow ridges. Later
he told us that narrow ridges and short ridges were the first
step to breeding no ridges. He stated flatly that there was
absolutely no reason or excuse to show or breed a Ridgeback
with a faulty ridge.
There’s a dog under the ridge,
and he didn’t discount that. But it can be said with no uncertainty
that any dog with a faulty ridge did not receive any consideration
for an award. All of his selections were within the height standard.
He told us that if he had to, he’d opt for undersize rather
than oversize. He was a stickler for substantail leg bone and
leg lenght. He wanted to see strong, well padded, tight feet.
”The feet can never be too big.” he remarked.
Coat color did not seem to be
a conscious consideration; however, he did stick to the middle
range wheaten colors. When he narrowed 56 specials down to 8,
it was interesting to note that 5 were brown nosed. And his
Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex were brown nosed.
It’s safe to assume that one
of the dogs Tom Hawley holds most dear to him is his Tau of
Voortrekkerhoogte. Tau was a good sized, but within standard,
brown-nosed male. In 1959, Fielding Lewis, who was very active
in the breed convinced Major Hawley to sell his beloved Tau
to him. Tau could be of much benefit to the breed in the United
States. Tom Hawley agreed. It was some three and a half years
later that Tom got to see Tau again. After he completed judging
the 1963 Specialty, Fielding Lewis paraded Tau into the show
ring for a reunion with his former master. Tom patted Tau, and
Tau responded by rubbing his face against Tom’s pant legs, but
since that was standard operating procedure for any Ridgeback,
Tom knew that Tau had not yet recognized him. Tom bent down,
held Tau’s head in his hands, looked him in the eyes and said,
”Hello, my boy.” The result was pandemonium. A quick thinking
photographer recorded the event. When Major Hawley related that
experience to us, his voice quivered and tears clouded his eyes.
Very few of us kept a dry eye either.
Tom Hawley held court
through two days of judging. His method of judging never changed.
No matter how large the class, he never got lost. He knew what
he wanted and set about finding it or the closest thing to it.
We who exhibited under him never felt overworked. He was the
essence of courtesy putting us at ease with his laid back style
Beyond his ability to
judge well, it must be remembered that Tom Hawley saw his first
Ridgeback in 1929. He acquired his first ridged dog in 1939.
If each one of us were to go back in our dog’s pedigree, chances
are the name De Holi appears in many of the older generations.
Tom Hawley’s De Holi kennel produced some of the finest specimens
of the breed.
Soon after World War II,
he became the Security Manager of the South African gold fields.
He replaced many of the Alsatian breeds that had been used by
guards with the Rhodesian Ridgeback. It was quickly learned
how versatile this young breed was.
The wealth of knowledge
aquired over a half century has to be regarded as awesome. Private
interviews and conversations as well as public forum he presided
at one evening just weren’t enough to absorb all he knows.
A few things come to my
mind. I asked him why he placed so much emphasis on the ridge
but didn’t seem to be concerned about white. Weren’t they both
purely esthetic characteristics? He told me that white most
definitely is, but the ridge is not esthetic – it is functional.
When Cornelius Van Rooyen went on a lion hunt, he didn’t care
what color the dog had. But he soon found out that it was the
ridged dogs that came home from the hunt. Tom Hawley justifiably
concludes that it was those ridged dogs who were most closely
related to the Hottentot ridged dogs that possessed the tenacity
and ability to stay alive. He stated again and again that the
ridge is the single most important characteristic of the breed.
He pulled no punches in telling us that we should spend more
time perfecting the ridge. We had such an enormous selection
of quality dogs with good ridges, we shouldn’t be breeding or
showing anything less.
A somewhat controversial
subject amongst Ridgeback owners and judges is how much white
a Ridgeback should have. Major Hawley is not a proponent of
excessive white.* However, he does not consider four white feet
a fault. He doesn’t want to see the white bleeding up past the
wrist or ankle, but he reasons that white freckles up in a mature
dog and that too many breeders and judges pay far too much attention
to the subject. He is concerned about wide blazes of white extending
up the neck and underside of the chin. Large patches of white
on the belly are of equal concern to him as well. However, white
below the sternum, covering the chest does not alarm him. According
to Tom Hawley, white is purely esthetic. The absence or presence
of it served no purpose other than to remind the owner of the
roots of the white – the Bull Terrier. Tom Hawley pointed out
to me that the Ridgeback would not have become the fearless
hunter it is without the ancestry of the Hottentott dog (the
ridge) and the Bull Terrier (the white).
Tom Hawley has returned
to Australia. I pray that he returns so that those fanciers
of this wonderful breed yet to come may experience the aura
of this man. Years from now it will give me great pleasure and
comfort in being able to say, ”I was there in ’82.”
* from the Rhodesian Ridgeback
official Standard approved 11/55: Color –Light wheaten to red
wheaten. A little white on the chest and toes permissible but
excessive white there and any white on the belly or above the
toes is undesirable.