|Perhaps it's just the nature of things, but lifetime friendships are doled
out very sparingly. It's impossible to know when we meet someone for the
first time that this may be one of those rare Heavenly gifts bestowed upon
us so infrequently.
Such was the case in March 1968 while judging a show at the Hall of Flowers
in San Francisco when I first met Dee Johnson. She was 40 years younger
perhaps, but none the less opinionated than she is today. "You're
starving your cat!" she told me in no uncertain terms when she learned
I had a wool eater - "That's why she's eating the blankets when you
ship her! " Frankly, other than Willa Hawke, nobody else would dare
speak to me that way - but she did. She thinks I don't know, but shortly
afterward one of her own cats ate a big hole in the sleeve of one of her
favorite cashmere coats (and she still hasn't told me that story!)
Dee and I became fast friends who saw Siamese cats in an uncannily similar
way and with the same passion for the breed. Dee doesn't know that my first
Siamese was also named Pywacket, likely from the same Kim Novak movie "Bell
Book & Candle" - perhaps that's why we still see the breed so
much alike. Soon Dee introduced me to Connie - and the growing friendship
between Dee and me now expanded to include another woman of equal passion
for the breed, but with slightly more diplomacy. Connie's opinions were
just as strong and well-considered, but not always worn on the tip of her
tongue. "Still water runs very deep" would be the best description
of another lifelong friend, Connie Roberts. I think it might be that contrast
in their personalities that has made their lives together for all these
years so successful and productive and I cherish them both to this day.
Moving to the West Coast from the East Coast as a very young judge I brought
with me my own impression of what Siamese Cats looked like. After all Jeanne
Singer, herself took me under her wing. No other breed could approach the
differential between the West Coast version and the East Coast version
than the Siamese did in those days.
To say they looked almost like two different breeds would not be an exaggeration.
Oh they may have been the same 4 colors but, as different as a red Chevrolet
is from a red Plymouth. Remember too that people didn't hop on planes quite
the way they do today to see how the other half lived, so to speak, so
many West Coast breeders were adjusting their eyes to that West coast look.
But not Dee & Connie, oh no - not by a long shot. I'd get a class of
35 West Coast Siamese cats and there would be one or two East Coast versions
mixed up in there and they always rose to the top of the heap in my ring
and invariably they'd be San-Toi Siamese. I give these women full credit
for blending the best of the West Coast with the best of the East Coast
and doing it in such a way that they produced around 120 GC, 20 Regional
Winners, 7 National Winners, and about 10 DM's in the mix. And, my fellow
Siamese breeders, those are just the San-Toi breed winners. The 30 plus
Siamese catteries that purchased San-toi cats or bred to San-toi males
would astronomically increase those numbers.
Now the friendship was also to be tested. Genuine friendships must be able
withstand some tests. Imagine a world in the early "70"s' where
three such friends were suddenly in competition for Best Siamese Nationally
- and possibly Cat of the Year! An amazingly beautiful LP male, GC San-Tana's
Podgorney was being shown the same year I was showing GC Sin-Chiang's Kali
of Mar-Ray and equally beautiful SP female. Early in the season they outdistanced
their competition to the point it was well known that they would be Best
& 2nd Best Siamese in some order. Now Podgorney was sired by a San-Toi
male (Beau Mondel) and it was only natural that they would favor Podgorney.
But neither could they deny my Kali's beauty either. Such a dilemma didn't
stop them however, from being one of the many breeders who lovingly cared
for my cat and showing her with the same loving attention they would if
she had been their own. It was our friendship and their genuine admiration
for quality that I will never forget. Times were different then - we helped
one another - Podgorney always got a fair shake under me (typically Best
Cat) and Kali was always shown to her best by Dee and Connie even when
the competition got to be too close to call.
One time I rollerbladed to the window of a cat show I was not judging with
a few greyhounds on a lead. Dee and Connie (and half the show hall) came
out to see crazy David on rollerblades (hey - I was pretty good on them
in those days) and the exquisite animals who were with me. Dee and Connie
fell in love with what I've often referred to as the canine version of
the Siamese cat and wouldn't rest until I agreed to give them a puppy from
my next litter. And so I did and another connection was made between us.
I believe they had two of my greyhounds over the years (one was a top show
female) and I always knew they had forever loving homes. Greyhounds are
still in their hearts today.
They joined me for dinner at a delightful French Restaurant in San Francisco
and actually agreed to eat calves brains. I wish I had a picture of that
first bite - it would have been an On The Road Again Classic. Dee said
to me recently: "Would I order them again - probably not - but I admit
they were sort of tasty".
Over the years I often sent people to them who were new and promising and
were looking for a break, and I always knew that they would be treated
fairly and ethically by these women. And they always were. It's hard to
come from nowhere without some help - help which most of us in this room
have received or we wouldn't be here today.
And many of you are here today because of them.
Linda Campbell (Elsk Cattery) and I co-bred many litters together and many
litters that she bred on her own included San-Toi cats that improved her
Liz Armitage acknowledges that the very existence of Sherona Cattery is
due, in large part, to the guidance and direction she received from Dee
Their contributions to CFA aren't only in the area of improving our beloved
masked bandits. Both have conducted CFA Clerking Schools, served as Show
Management at shows and formed and participated at club levels for many
years. They brought proposals to our Annual Meetings, supported issues
successfully (and unsuccessfully as we all have) so they know where the
rubber meets the road. They never stop striving to make CFA a better place
for better cats.
Dee Johnson and Connie Roberts: Your contributions to our breed are legend
- your assistance to your fellow breeders has been unselfish for well over
40 years. Your support of CFA, CFA Clubs, CFA Shows has been steady and
true. You are admired, respected and loved by many, and I proudly include
myself among that group.
As a lifetime friend of over 40 years it is my privilege and honor to bestow
the CFA Siamese Breed Councils' Lifetime Achievement Award to you both.