Dried leaves shatter and crackle as a brave woman in a bright red coat and Abbey, her Pembroke Corgi, ply a hill in Cherokee Park.
It’s a crisp fall afternoon at the park’s popular gathering place. Lost in their own playtime, other dogs and their owners pay little attention to the dashing couple sprinting between trees. But when Evalyn Gregory, whose friends call her Ev, stops to admire a couple’s puppy, it’s obvious she knows more about dog breeds and behavior than most.
Gregory is a three-time judge for the world-famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is typically held in January in New York City, but has been postponed until June of this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“To me it’s like the Super Bowl at dog shows,” said Gregory. “Dogs are my vocation. I had other dreams for me, like being a veterinarian or a psychologist, but my family always brought me back to dogs.”
Dogs are the nucleus of the Gregory’s Kentucky family. Canine companions have played interesting roles through many generations of the family – which also include a Kentucky basketball team, a racing driver, and the famous Hope Diamond.
The history of Grégory’s familyis a story worthy of a Hollywood script with plenty of room for canine actors. Her mother, Mamie Spears Reynolds Gregory, was the daughter of a United States Senator from North Carolina. She raised dogs, horses, pygmy goats and miniature horses. In the early 1960s, she became the first woman to qualify for the Daytona 500, an annual 500 mile race held in Florida.
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“My mother had a very independent and fierce spirit,” Gregory told the Courier Journal. “She had her own racing team for a while in Asheville, NC.”
Gregory’s great-grandmother, Evalyn Walsh McLean, was a Washington socialite whose father made his fortune in 1896 mining Colorado for gold. As a result, Ev Gregory’s great-grandmother grew up in a beautiful Washington DC mansion, married the Washington Post heir, and was the last private owner of the legendary and allegedly cursed Hope Diamond.
Yes, this Giant 45-carat diamond. The same that you can visit at the Smithsonian Institution.
McLean is said to sometimes let his Great Dane, Mike, wear the infamous diamond around his big neck.
Gregory’s parents’ love affair began, you guessed it, at a dog show.
“My dad first saw a photo of a boxer in the Courier Journal and that’s how he became interested in breed,” recalls Gregory. “It won the Best in Show award at a dog show in North Carolina where my mom was the trophy presenter. So I guess it was in the stars.”
Joe Gregory is from Cloverport, a small town in Kentucky on the Ohio River. After he and Granny got married, they moved to Louisville and started a family where Ev Gregory and his older brother Joseph grew up in a house full of animals.
“In addition to many breeds of dogs, we had Pygmy and Nubian goats, miniature horses and we owned a duck,” said Gregory. “It’s a duck that I found walking around in the rain at a dog show in Florida. We adopted it and called it Herald for the Miami Herald newspaper.”
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Gregory feels that the care and compassion his parents gave to their animal menagerie created a home filled with remarkable human kindness.
“My mother passed away in 2014, but during her lifetime she was the greatest animal lover I have ever known and I’m sure that’s why my parents made such a loving home for me and my brother.” , she said. “There has always been so much love.”
A few years before his birth, Gregory’s parents bought off the Kentucky Colonels. The Louisville-based basketball team was a colorful franchise in the 1960s and not just because of itsshiny chartreuse green uniforms. Among the things the team were known for was its“mascot” Ziggy, an award-winning Brussels griffon dog.
“My mother loved the Brussels Griffon breed and Ziggy was our pet that players and fans loved,” she said. “It had its own seat for the games and there was a hospitality room known as the ‘Ziggy Room’.”
From a young age, Gregory traveled with his parents as they showed miniature dogs, goats and horses across the United States. At the age of 10, Gregory began caring for the dogs on her own.
“I had been prepared early in my life on how to walk with a dog, how fast to run with different breeds of dogs, and all the responsibilities that were asked of me that when I entered that ring to compete, I would be controlling my dog, and more importantly, we would have fun together because that’s what it is, ”said Gregory.
At Westminster, she maneuvered a Brussels Griffon which took second place in the 1996 Toy Group. With her mother, Gregory was co-owner of the 2009 Toy Group winner, Lincoln, a Brussels Griffon who remains the most smooth-haired Brussels Griffon. award-winning of all time.
His parents were his mentors, and even today Gregory travels with his father Joe Gregory, who at 94 still judges dogs around the world.
Gregory said another thing she learned from her mother is the importance of coordinating her outfits according to a dog’s appearance and personality. It’s an equally important practice for her today as she prepares for her assignment as a judge at Westminster.
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“In the ring you have to look appropriate and respectful, in a way that doesn’t take anything away from the dogs,” said Gregory. “I have chosen a maxi dress and the jewelry I will wear will be very special pieces that belonged to my mother.”
The accessories she wears on the Tuesday, Jan.25, Fox Sports TV show will be sentimental but nothing quite as shiny as her great-grandmother’s Hope Diamond.
Gregory’s brother, Joseph McLean Gregory, wrote a book about this allegedly cursed gemstone, which their great-grandmother bought in 1911 when she was just 24 – “The Evalyn Hope Diamond Walsh McLean and the captivating mystery of the world’s most alluring gem. ” He also created a scent which he says was inspired by the legendary but unlucky gem.
The story of their great-grandmother, writes Joseph Gregory, “was filled with opulence and tragedy, including suicide and drug addiction.” The story has been featured on The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, A&E, and in numerous Smithsonian Institution films.
The home where Evalyn Walsh McLean lived when she owned the 45-carat Hope Diamond is now the Indonesian Embassy in Washington DC
“I first visited the house a few years ago and was blown away that my great-grandmother and grandmother lived here,” said Gregory. “It’s like a creepy hotel. I would have loved to hear their stories about what it was like to throw parties and live there in the 1940s.”
After the death of her great-grandmother in 1947, the Hope Diamond was purchased along with the rest of the heiress’s extensive jewelry collection – which also included the 94-carat Eastern Star – by Harry Winston , Inc. In 1958, they donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, and almost immediately the Great Blue Stone became their main attraction.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is all part of my family. I am very touched,” Gregory said as she lifted Abbey into her lap.
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“My mom kept my life very low key so that I could understand what was important to me and that’s it,” said Gregory, looking at his 10-year-old canine companion. “You know why her name is Abbey, don’t you?” It’s for Westminster.
In Abbey’s case, Westminster is more a nod to the historic Church of England than the dog show Gregory will judge later this year. Abbey will stay in Louisville with a dog sitter while Gregory spends a long day in the ring. She’s been tasked with judging Toy and Non-Sporting groups and several Sporting, Hound, Working and Terrier breeds, but a long day among the dogs is a spectacular day for this Kentucky judge.
“Westminster is the second longest sporting event in the country, just behind the Kentucky Derby,” she said. “Sounds appropriate, doesn’t it?” ”
Contact Kirby Adams at email@example.com or Twitter @kirbylouisville.