Remembering Gloria Reese

The life and legacy of a true dog fancier.

We were sitting having lunch as we had so many times before at Junior’s Deli, one of Gloria’s favorite places. She was concentrating on enjoying her matzo brei, but I kept noticing a man at the next booth who was staring at Gloria. Was he someone she knew from one of the many components of her life? Was he trying to remember how he knew her? He finally came over to our table and said to me, “She’s a movie star, isn’t she?” I smiled and said, “Yes, she is!” The next day I had a welt in the perfect impression of Gloria’s size 5 Clarks clogs from where she kicked me under the table. That was my darling, beautiful friend — turning heads and always the center of attention, at a dog show or at a deli, and usually oblivious to her effect on others.

Gloria certainly was a center of attention at dog shows. She and her husband, Nat, had owned three Top Dogs all breeds: ‘Punky’ the Greyhound, ‘Corry’ the Doberman and ‘Iron’ the Bouvier [more formally, Ch. Aroi Talk Of The Blues, Ch. Galaxy’s Corry Missile Belle and Ch. Galbraith’s Ironeyes — Eds.]. Gloria judged all over the world, judged the Hound Group at Westminster, and judged national specialties, which she loved most of all. But dog shows did not define her. She had worked at Paramount Studios and had great stories about Errol Flynn and other big stars on the lot.

She and Nat loved to play and watch tennis, and they attended Wimbledon and the US Open more than a few times. When I giggled one time and said, “Where I live, we don’t look up and see Sidney Poitier at the restaurant,” she asked if I wanted to meet him, since Nat had played tennis with him for years. What a life they made together, whether traveling in Asia, attending bull fights in Spain, walking hand-in-hand around London, in and out of antique shops, or having an entire NFL team over to their house for New Year’s. Their 62-year love story was one long adventure, always focusing on each other most of all.

Gloria also often traveled on her own, judging at Skokloster, navigating her 40-foot motor home around the country as if it were a Ferrari, or scouring Switzerland in search of good Borzoi with her friend and mentor, Bruna Henry. Whatever her endeavor, it was always fueled by her passion for excellence. Gloria never did anything halfheartedly. Anything that had her time and attention had her full passion and intensity. She was active in so many dog clubs through the years, and each one got her all, from making giant vats of chili for WSCS (the Western Sighthound Combined Specialties), to never missing an AKC delegates meeting in her years of service to the Greyhound Club of America. When Gloria stood to speak at a delegates meeting, you could hear a pin drop in the huge meeting room. People might not necessarily agree with her opinion on an issue, but everyone wanted to hear what she had to say, knowing it came with years of experience as a breeder, judge, club member and exhibitor that very few could match.

Gloria’s devotion to excellence took many forms in her dog activities. People still talk about Punky as a paragon of show dogs and the ultimate, iconic Greyhound. She was Top Dog all breeds in 1976 and won the Hound Group at Westminster in 1978 and 1980, as well as being a specialty winner. But to Nat and Gloria, she was their beloved companion, living in the house as a family member and sleeping in their bed with them, including the motor home bed, where more than a few times she kicked one of them out of bed while having a dream of running after rabbits. Gloria often said they never truly comprehended Punky’s influence and greatness as a show dog because she was “just one of the family” to them. Punky went to shows in the motor home with Nat and Gloria, not as a show dog on the road being campaigned, but as their pet that happened to be No. 1 all breeds. Hillary, their granddaughter, has fond memories of running around the backyard playing with Punky.

When Gloria judged, she brought the same love and passion. You might not know which dog she would point at, but you always knew it was her authentic choice, not influenced by who was in the ring or the record the dog had amassed. She judged the Borzoi National, the Greyhound National in 2000 and in 2010, and was sometimes surprised when she handed out ribbons to see the person for the first time, she was so completely focused on the dogs she was judging. She always said, “You have to think with your heart as well as your head,” and that some dogs just had something special, something extra that made her respond to them. Her passion could also go in the other direction. If she did not think a dog was correct according to the standard, she said so! More than a few people commented on how gentle, even tender, her examinations in the ring were as she carefully went over each dog. On the other hand, it was perhaps too easy to see on her face when she thought a dog should not have been in the ring.

The day after Nat’s funeral eight years ago, Hillary and I felt we needed to get Gloria out of the house. Hillary told Gloria she really wanted to skate that day, and had been invited by the Bombers to their roller derby practice session. So out we went to the Mall of Japan in Los Angeles with Hillary. Once again, in the small town I live in, in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina, we don’t have people with rainbow-colored hair, facial piercings and tattoos everywhere. I turned from the rail watching Hillary skate to see Gloria, surrounded by a dozen neon-haired skaters, all sitting around her, laughing and attentive. That was Gloria — even when we dragged her out to a roller derby, she was at home and the center of attention to purple-haired girls half a century her junior.

After that, as we drove through L.A., we passed The Dog Psychology Center. By chance, Cesar Millan was out in the yard with ‘Daddy’ the pit bull and the other dogs, and he waved at the Rolls, inviting us in. He is a controversial figure in dogs, to be sure. And yet he was so welcoming, so charming, and spent most of the hour we were with him asking Gloria about judging, about her travels and asking which was more exciting: to have her dogs show in the Group at Westminster, or to judge the Group at Westminster? From the pierced and tattooed Bombers at the Mall of Japan to the Mexican TV star, people just were drawn to Gloria. Her modus operandi was always to be authentic, speak her mind, be passionate and look for excellence, and those qualities seemed mesmerizing to others.

The Reese homes were full of museum-worthy treasures, and yet, anyone who came to visit with a dog knew there were no boundaries, no couch too good, no room off-limits. A week before she passed, Pat Bywater brought her young Greyhound puppies to visit and had Gloria laughing out loud at their antics. The live dogs always took precedence over any material thing they owned. When Gloria came to visit us, especially when we had a young litter of Greyhounds, she came with a suitcase full of jeans and sweatshirts and insisted she didn’t want to go anywhere, but to just stay home and play with the puppies. They had no dogs the 12 years they were in the condo, so time with dogs elsewhere became so precious to them. She would pick up a puppy here and carry it until it became too wiggly or too sleepy, and then switch to another puppy. She flew across the country to be here when our two new puppies came in from Scandinavia — she couldn’t stand to miss the fun and excitement. Not having her own dog didn’t mean the passion for dogs lessened. She’d been bitten as a little girl and had been terrified of dogs for a year. When she decided to overcome that and to love dogs again, it was a love affair that only increased each day the rest of her life.

Gloria’s name and legacy are the result of a lifetime as a true fancier. She did not consider herself a breeder and told people she’d only ever had a handful of litters. But she had a true eye and a great mind for dogs, and was constantly asked for advice or approval by so many. She was as fulfilled to find a great dog as she was to breed it herself. Her long friendship with Göran Bodegard helped open the door to Gloria’s role in the increased inclusion of Swedish Greyhounds into the American gene pool. Her beloved ‘Markus’ (Ch. My-Adventure) brought new blood and a strong type to this country. Two of his daughters were specialty winners, Gloria’s homebred Ch. Holmby Hills White Lace and my Ch. Lochinvar Leaps and Bounds. His son, Ch. Barbizon Frank de Roberjos was one of the most dominant sires the breed has seen. A later import, Ch. Panda with Feather, became a multiple BIS winner. Gloria’s goal was always excellence, and it did not need to emanate from her; it was truly about the betterment of the breed.

I have no idea how to imagine my life without my dear, funny, opinionated and passionate friend. We were as devoted to Greyhounds as to each other. When Nat became ill, Gloria had a laser focus on him, and yet she found incredible courage to go on when she lost him. Now that my own dear husband is ill, she taught me yet another life lesson in what love looks like in its many manifestations. We are losing these great dog people of another era who were not merely focused on wins or records, but on The Fancy, on The Sport of Dogs as a way of life. David Brooks recently wrote in the New York Times about recognizing the difference between what is on your résumé and what is on your eulogy. What one achieves or accumulates in life is not what matters, but instead life is who you were and what you stood for. Gloria made the most of both lists, and we will not see her likes again.


From the July 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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