Dr. Gerda Maria Kennedy 1919 – 2013
By Francine Reisman
Gerda Maria Kennedy passed away this week. She was 92 years old. Gerda was a breeder of Afghan Hounds under the ‘Shangrila’ banner. She was approved to judge the Hound Group and many of the Sporting breeds. To the Afghan Hound world she was thought of as one of the great ones. This spilled over into the other hound breeds. She made it clear what she wanted in a hound, and if you felt your dogs had this, you brought them to her to judge.
I first saw Gerda at the Philadelphia Kennel Club show at the end of the ‘60s. She was showing her top winning bitch Ch. Shangrila Pharahna Phaedra. Phaedra and Gerda were perfection in the ring. Neither one ever had a “ do-over”. Neither ever had a hair out of place. Gerda was famous for never ever getting dirt on her clothing (very often a white suit) or having her hair messed by the wind. It seemed that the rain would part to keep her dry while everyone else was soaked.
Showing to Gerda could be difficult. She expected perfection. She expected strength. Most of all, it seemed, she expected stamina. Exhibitors would count the many times they ran around the ring as her finger would go up in the air in a circle and they knew to just keep going. Those people who won under Gerda worked hard for their ribbons. Others just watched the show, but kept their dogs home. That was okay by Gerda, she looked for the same flawlessness in the dogs she judged as she herself aspired to. Any dog with less than this didn’t need to be in her ring.
Gerda avoided setting a date to meet with us so we could interview her for the magazine. It would have been a terrific read. There were so many stories about her life. One that I remember is that during World War II, after her Russian husband was killed by the Germans, she managed to escape her home in Austria, in the middle of the night, taking her Lipizzan horses with her. It would have been interesting to hear her side of this and all the other stories that were passed around.
No one will ever take Gerda’s place in the Hound World. She will be glorified for the future by those of us who knew her, sat around and listened to her discuss dogs. She loved being center stage whether at a party or in the center of the show ring…with her finger in the air making those circles.
Post Script to this article:
RE: BIO OF GERDA KENNEDY 1919-2013
I just have to say that was a very touching bio you wrote on your website about my grandmother, Gerda Kennedy. She was amazing with animals and was a fascinating woman who lived through a lot. She was fun to watch and knew a lot about the business of dogs, especially her beautiful Afghan hounds. I was raised in a kennel, basically … my mom worked with grandma in the 1960s and I spent most of my time there growing up.
I can assure you, however, that her husband was not Russian; he was an Austrian doctor who was killed by Russians at the end of the war. And she did not escape Austria during the war, she left after the war was over and only had Lipizzaner horses in the late 1960s when she lived in Broken Arrow. She brought over 2 pregnant mares and one delivered a stallion. She told a great story, though! Actually she told a LOT of great stories
All the best, Christa Hillhouse – daughter of the daughter of Gerda Kennedy
We have just received the above letter in response to my memorial article on Gerda Kennedy who passed away last week. The letter was sent to Canine Chronicle by Christa Hillhouse, Gerda’s granddaughter. Ms. Hillhouse felt that the story I related was not correct. During the many years I knew Gerda there were many stories told about her life before she became an Afghan breeder, handler and judge. They were all very interesting and I’m sure as time went on they increased in content. I do hope that her family understands that Gerda Kennedy will always be remembered as a beautiful, proud woman who brought much to our breed.
NOTE: If you have any old photos of Dr. Gerda Kennedy that you would like to share, please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
photos courtesy of AKC
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