God Speed . . . Margaret van Hook Swayze
December 21, 1925 – January 12, 2010
Jan Swayze Curry had the good fortune to have been born into an avid dog show family. Longlesson was started in the late 40’s by her Grandmother Margaret Van Hook and Her two daughter’s Judy and Peggy. They bred standard smooth dachshunds starting in the 1940’s and then they added Afghan hounds in the early 1950’s. Longlesson has bred 50+ afghan champions, many of which have also been field and obedience titled.
At 6 years old, Jan was given her first show dog, the Italian greyhound Ch Kirklea Longlesson Bel Canto. She helped pilot her to a top 10 IG in 1961. A few years later, Jan was given her first whippet to show, Ch Kirklea Flight Pattern.
Jan’s family became a part of the Atlanta Kennel club in the 1940’s which is where they met many that would be influential in the development of their breeding programs. Such as Cora Miller(Hound Hill), James Gray(Elysian) and Larry Shaw(Kirklea) which led them to Whippets which were added in 1968. With her parents Louis and Peggy Swayze, Husband Steve Curry and two children Grahm Swayze and Louis Pence, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 whippet champions have been bred by Longlesson.
Jan has handled many of the top whippets over the last 40 years. She has won the whippet national twice, and many specialty shows. Longlesson strives to produce dual purposed, correct hounds which is evidenced by the combination of both conformation and field titles of the dogs they produce. Jan and Steve have both been lure coursing judges for the past 30 years and active coursing their own hounds. Most recently, they have also added Pharaoh hounds into their fray, having just co-bred a litter with Thom and Pam Haig of Mia Pharaoh’s which has turned out 6 champions, 3 group winners and 3 dual champions.
The Story of Longlesson
by Jan Swayze Curry, © 2010
My parents, Peggy and Louis Swayze, began breeding and showing dogs before I was born. Therefore, what I know about the origins of Longlesson is mostly what I heard growing up. And I heard a lot because all our relatives and friends talk all the time. That means that I have heard many versions of these stories, each version different from the one I heard before, even from the same person. This is the best I can do with what I remember, and with the help of friends who knew my parents for as many as fifty years.
In the late 1940s my maternal grandmother, Margaret Maddox van Hook, owned and bred Smooth Dachshunds with her four children, Peggy, Errett, Robert, and Judy. They were Atlanta neighbors of the famous Chihuahua breeder, Bill Jenkins, and he got the children to show some of his dogs as well. (One of them, “Patsy,” kept me out of my grandmother’s living room for years!)
The sisters Peggy and Judy got more involved with the dogs than the other members of the family, and began breeding in earnest. In fact, they produced one of the first longhaired champions in the area from a litter of smooths. Breeding and showing those long and low Dachshunds prompted my mother to name her kennel “Longlesson.”
About the same time my mother met a young architect, Louis Swayze, in a painting class taught by the locally renowned Red Hamilton. Obviously, they fell in love and married in december 27, 1950. I came along in 1955. Both had seen and admired Afghan Hounds – who had promptly snubbed them, which only increased their determination to own one of those aloof creatures.
They acquired their first Afghans from Walter Vitter: Roseclydes Jasmine Khalik and her littermate Roseclydes Omar Khan. Having seen the great Int. Ch. Turkuman Nissim’s Laurel (“Kaftan”), bred in England by Juliette de Baracly-Levy and imported by Sunny Shay of Grandeur, they decided to base their breeding on him and his type. From Sunny they bought a black Kaftan daughter, Turkafa of Grandeur. In partnership with Cora Nunnally Miller, also of Atlanta, from Sunny they acquired Kakasha Tiger Lily, a beautiful red bitch imported from England and line-bred on Turkuman.
By breeding those bitches back to Ch. Jester of Longlesson, a black dog linebred on the Roseclydes, they set the signature Longlesson type. By the early 1960s the Longlesson Afghans were instantly recognizable in the show ring: many of the best ones (Ch. Longlesson Gabriel, Ch. Longlesson Sundowner) were black. Whatever the color, though, the Longlesson dogs were distinctive for their long necks, deep bodies, sloping croups, and highly angulated shoulders and hindquarters.
Many champions, group and specialty winners bore the Longlesson prefix in the 1960s and ’70s, and other breeders used Longlesson dogs as their foundation stock. Best known of these were Judy and Herman Fellton, who started their Mandith kennel with Ch. Longlesson Bard and Ch. Longlesson Jason. From Jason and Ch. Longlesson Ophelia the Felltons bred Ch. Mandith Alexander, their first group winner, handled by Michele Billings.
As a friend wrote to me shortly after my mother’s death last winter, everyone who ever met my parents was somehow spellbound by their ability to be different, to see their dogs not only as animals but also as works of art. They were, after all, artists: Louis was an architect and Peggy thought of herself as a painter before she thought of herself as a breeder. Our friend continued by saying that the Swayzes steadfastly adhered to their ideas of what the ideal Afghan should look like and, more important, how it should move. Never were they drawn in by the latest Afghan fashions, and in some ways it can be said that they paid a high price for their vision and their integrity in clinging fast to it. In the world of dogs as I see it today, I have to say that that vision has somehow been lost.
In the early days my parents met several folks through the Atlanta Kennel Club who became lifelong friends, some of them even honorary members of the family: Larry Shaw; Michelle Billings; Roy Ayers; Bill Cloudt; Florence Dendy; May Downing; Herman and Judy Fellton; Don Jones; Charles Milwain; Charles and Christine Venable; and many more. During that period dog shows were small, often booking only a couple of judges for a whole show. Many of these friends were young, with children, house payments, and all the other struggles of young families, so tailgate parties with shared homemade food were common. Everybody stayed for the duration of the show to cheer each other on; they traveled in caravans and everybody stayed in cheap mom-and-pop motels. They talked late into the night, drinking and laughing and arguing about breeding and showing. And always somebody had puppies to discuss and evaluate.
In fact, some of my earliest memories are of taking the latest puppy up and back and around for all to see over and over again. Once on a visit to our house Charles Milwain had brought over his latest black cocker, Misty Mornin’ Catch of Cathay, who later became very famous. A very noble cat of ours, Melissa, decided that dogs of other breeds were not welcome chez Swayze that day and attacked this beautiful black cocker. There are hundreds of other hilarious stories that made those years as funny as they were exciting.
Our house was the center of many incredibly interesting visits by these colorful folks. For the Tara Afghan Hound Specialty in 1961 my parents opened our home to Reigh Abrams, because it wasn’t safe for her to stay in a hotel in the area. Mother befriended a young Peter Belmont and his early dogs. My father often had to escape the attentions of Sunny Shay or beware of Mother’s loving but spitfire arguments with Babbie Tongren. A visit by Roger Rechler was cut short by too many peppercorns in a serious chili cooked by Louis.
When I was a little girl Larry Shaw gave me an Italian Greyhound bitch, Ch. Kirklea Bel Canto, with whom I won my first group, under Iris de la Torre Bueno. But Bel eventually got old, and when she was at death’s door I convinced my father that I was in desperate need of a Whippet. Needless to say Larry and Cora Nunnally Miller, who were partners by then, jumped on the idea. Thus began Longlesson Whippets. With the help of Larry, Cora, and James Gray at Elysian we continued in Whippets and had more success with them as I began to handle professionally.
Peggy was a talented and prolific painter. After graduating from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA, and the Parsons School of Design in New York, she studied with the distinguished New York School painter Carl Holty, who probably had the most influence over her way of envisioning the world as an artist. Louis was a serious artist as well, with an architecture degree from Georgia Tech. One of his most beautiful creations was the house that Judy and Hermann Felton built in Cobb County in the 1960s. He also designed our parish church, St. Anne’s Episcopal, in Northwest Atlanta. They had enormous respect for each other’s aesthetic and visual sensitivity. In fact Mother always said that he had a better eye for a dog than she did. The last Afghan litter that he evaluated seemed to prove Mother’s point: The ones he picked are all finished champions, but Mother’s favorite is still here, needing a few points and – to tell the truth — a few more hairs!
In the mid-1970s they combined their talents to create St Anne’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, their own parish home. His design provided a permanent home for her religious work in the form of some forty stained-glass windows. As the windows began to be installed at St. Anne’s, several other Episcopal churches throughout the South followed suit. For them Mother made wood carvings, sculptures, mosaics, and designed stained-glass windows built by the Art Glass Studio of Atlanta, owned by George and Joan Goodyear. Being a part of those windows as a craftsman and installer was certainly one of the most interesting parts of my life.
My mother designed the last stained glass piece for Lindsey Wilson College. It’s a 150-square-foot wall celebrating the sciences and is right here in Columbia, Kentucky, where they spent their final years. My husband, Steve Curry, and my children, Grahm and Louis, helped me build the window, which depicts the inside of a classroom and what one might see out of the window. For the last few years they lived in a great little house in the country with their dogs, their classical music, and their sense of humor, right to the last. Both of them were blessed until the last moment by being able to die at home, surrounded their family and by green vistas visible from every window. Naturally, in addition to the family, there were Whippets and even a stray Afghan or two sprawled in the chairs and across the end of the bed.
Their humor will keep us on track for the generations to come. My daughter Grahm, graduated from college with a degree in art, is living in maryland showing dogs for a living. Deployed overseas My son Louis, married now and is a fabulous cartoonist. Grahm is an accomplished handler and breeder; and like his grandfather Louis is more a dog lover than a dog show lover. But someday he may lose his daughter to the ways of Peggy and Louis. Victoria is a redheaded little ball of fire and a miniature version of her grandmother: “don’t bother me with the facts — I am doing this my way.” And her eyes light up every time she sees a dog.