OBITUARY – MISS OLWEN M. HUNT
SOWERHILL IRISH SETTERS
1929 – 2012
How sad I am to write this obituary and tribute to this lovely lady who died on April 4th 2012. Olwen was a person of charm, quality and distinction who almost throughout her life from the age of 10 years in 1939 right up to “last year” always kept and bred Irish setters. In that time she bred some of the most important and influential setters which were the basis establishing great dogs such as Sh.Ch.Kerryfair Night Fever (By Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Sahib ex Cornevon Spring Melody) who in turn passed significant genes on to Sh. Ch. Caspians Intrepid. Olwen’s record in “Irish” speaks for itself and is to be seen and found as the foundation of many lines.
In the 2009 ISAE review appropriately the club honoured Olwen, one of it’s former committee members, with a fine article written by Olwen herself recording her life and showing some truly enchanting photographs of many “typy” setters, who to my eye have a depth of quality and soundness which so correctly endorse the breed standard and such a pleasure to behold. This lady was always courteous, modest, unassuming, gentle honest and very principled – She was kind and reserved almost shy at times – but at the same time she held very definite views and was decisive and sure and in a quiet way would not be easily swayed. There was an inner strength to her character….and her close and true friends knew this to be so – it belied her outwardly reserved quiet manner. I believe she possessed an unusually fine “eye” as a judge and knew exactly what she sought and looked for in a setter and watching her judging this breed was an education in itself and a delight.
Olwen was born in London SW2 and after ten years moved with her parents, sister and two brothers in Purley in Surrey. Between 1941 and 1944 Olwen and her brothers and sister were evacuated to Stroud in Gloucestershire. On returning to Purley she had much to do with the Young Farmers Club and at their Field Contests she represented Surrey for dairy cattle judging, beef cattle judging and poultry judging. In the latter she got the top award at Olympia and was asked to represent England. In 1951, her parents bought Higher Sowerhill Farm where Olwen and her brothers’ dairy farmed up to 1999. The farm was sold but 4 acres were retained and they had a bungalow and stables built which remained her home until her sad passing.
She had her first Irish setter in 1939 called Tessie Belle, based upon Wendover, Boyne, Nutbrown, and Rheola lines. What followed were a number of champions such as Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Sahib, Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Satyr of Fearnley, Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Nobleman, Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Storm, Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Sarong of Kingscott, Sowerhill Sailor who was exported to Sweden and Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Sarah who proved to be an outstanding brood bitch and there were many other notable dogs and bitches. She used predominantly “Wendover” stud dogs to great effect. Most notable of these was Sh. Ch. Wendover Jeeves. If you can lay your hands on the article in the ISAE 2009 review you will be well rewarded by enjoying photographs of these lovely setters.
I am hoping that because Olwen Hunt was “so special” and such a wonderful advocate for Irish setters, it may be possible to somehow reproduce this really grand photograph of 12 of her setters taken in her beloved Dulverton farmland under the caption “Seventy Years with Irish Setters”….so beautiful and speaks volumes.
In the year 2000 Olwen’s life changed significantly when she had a replacement knee operation which went disastrously wrong and she contracted MRSA resulting in further operations culminating in having the leg fused in a fixed position which in turn led to her being immobile and eventually having to use a wheel chair and a Zimmer frame. She was determinedly private and self reliant and would never have wished or accepted a “retirement home”. It just would not have been right. She lost her last Irish setter Sowerhill Sintra last year and was very lonely without a setter at her side as you might well imagine. In these later years Rob and Marlene Budgell were kind and constant friends and helped her in so many ways.
Steve and Stephanie Wood (who had Sh. Ch. Sowerhill Sahib) went to visit Olwen last autumn and used to keep in touch. In the earlier years when Pat and Jim Rutherford (Clonageera) lived together in Cricket St. Thomas they were friends of Olwen and I know they both respected and were fond of Olwen and her dogs/breeding. Pat remarried and now lives in the USA. Pat and David Pike (Redclyst) had several dogs from Olwen which were the foundation of their present day kennel. Her sister and her brothers supported her but of course this wasn’t easy as one has to realise that Olwen was the youngest of the family circle.
I thought the world of her as you can probably tell and when she was unable to get to shows I used to write and send her letters, catalogue extracts and post cards and kept in contact over the years. I did not want her to think she was forgotten. We shall always remember her as a very special lady and will miss her…her legacy will live on through her dogs and in a host of extended pedigrees.
Priscilla’s mum Vera who died aged 98 in August 2010 had met Olwen just once when she came to our house to a garden party after Southern Counties one year. She took an instant liking to Olwen and often said “how is Olwen I did like her. What a sweet person”. How right she was. In the summer of 2010 some friends managed to get Olwen to the Pike’s party which they host after the Paignton show. Sadly Priscilla and I did not attend Paignton that year so missed the opportunity of catching up with her.
To her immediate family go our sincere condolences. Olwen looked after her mother and her father in their old age at Dulverton. Olwen died in hospital while medics were endeavouring to improve her breathing which was giving her circulation/heart problems and she did not sadly survive the operation. It would have been terrible to think of her hospitalised or in long term care and this she would have resisted and mercifully her passing was without distress and when unconscious.
JAMES S. F. SMITH
The following is taken from an article written by Miss Olwen M. Hunt herself a few years before her death.
Miss Olwen M. Hunt was born in 1929 in Athlone Road, London SW2, moving to Purley in Surrey in 1939 at the age of 10 years along with her parents, sister and two brothers. Her Father worked in the Air Ministry and in 1941 the family were evacuated to Stroud in Gloucestershire, where they stayed until 1944. Whilst there, Olwen often helped the local farmer and so developed her life long love of farming, becoming involved with the Young Farmers Club on her return to Purley. She represented Surrey for Diary Cattle judging, Beef Cattle judging and Poultry judging at the Young Farmers Field Contests, winning the top award for Poultry judging at Olympia and subsequently being asked to represent England.
As a child, living in London Olwen often used to play in Brockwell Park and was fascinated by the red dogs she often saw running around there. At the time Olwen had no idea which breed they were, but it transpired that they were the Norlan Irish Setters, owned by Mrs E. F. Leighton-Boyce. Olwen’s parents had always promised her a dog if they left London, so in August 1939, she was given a two month old Irish Setter puppy for her 10th birthday. Her name was Tessie Belle, a grand-daughter of Wizard of Wendover, with Boyne, Nutbrown, Rheola and Field Trial Champions in the pedigree. At six months old she got Distemper, but luckily survived. As Olwen had her during the war years, she was never bred from and she died in 1950. I doubt that anyone at the time could foresee the life long obsession that Tessie Belle started.
1939 with Tessie Belle
With Tessie Belle in 1943
The Family in 1944
Tessie Belle Age 12 1/2 years in 1950
In 1951 Olwen’s parents bought Higher Sowerhill Farm for Olwen and one of her brothers, so that they could dairy farm. They continued to farm here until 1999 when the farm was sold. Olwen kept four acres, having a bungalow and stables built and lived there for the rest of her life.
Just after moving to Higher Sowerhill Farm in 1951, Olwen bought a puppy, Norlan Tessie Belle from Mrs Leighton-Boyce. She was by Shandy of Maydorwill & Norlan Neula, both having been PRA test mated. (This of course was in the days before there was a DNA test available so test mating was the only option available to breeders at that time). Unfortunately, she was unable to be shown as she had scars and a bump on her back due to having contracted Hard-Pad. Her first litter to Simon of Bickenhall, produced Sowerhill Renny. This was the start of the Sowerhill Irish Setters. From her second litter to Maydorwill Happy Lad, Olwen kept Sowerhill Julinda, dam of Sowerhill Romeo, who became a 1st & 2nd prize winner at the Midland Game Keepers Fair Open Gundog Tests and Sowerhill Winsford Robert, who won 3 RCC’s. Her third litter to CH. Boisdale Boggit, produced Sowerhill Red Mist, who in turn was the Great Great Grandmother of Sh Ch Sowerhill Red Colleen of Kitewood, owned by Olwen herself.
Sh Ch Sowerhill Red Colleen of Kitewood was sired by Sh Ch Wendover Gentleman. She was mated to Sh Ch Stephenshill Gamebird, producing Sh Ch Sowerhill Storm. He in turn sired Olwen’s Sowerhill Snowqueen (J.W. & 2 RCC’s). Mating Sowerhill Samantha to Sh Ch Stephenshill Gamebird produced the lovely Sh Ch Sowerhill Sarah.
Olwen was thrilled when she won Best In Show at the Irish Setter Breeders Club Championship Show in 1979. Sh Ch Sowerhill Sarah won the ISBC’s trophy for Best Brood Bitch three times. When mated to Sh Ch Wendover Jeeves, she produced Sh Ch Sowerhill Satyr of Fearnley (Breed Record holder for a while), Sh Ch Sowerhill Sahib, (who sired Sh Ch Kerryfair Night Fever & Sh Ch Clonageera Genesis), Sh Ch Sowerhill Sarong of Kingscott & Sowerhill Sarabelle, winner of 3 RCC’s. When she was mated to Wendover Renegade, she produced Sowerhill Sailor of Wendover, who was top Stud Dog and winner for many years in Sweden.
Other successful Sowerhill exports were: Australian Ch Sowerhill Keelta (ex. Sowerhill Jassy), Barbados Ch Sowerhill Natalie of Moorlands (ex Fearnley Fire Ember of Sowerhill), Spanish Ch Sowerhill Matilde (ex Sowerhill Jenny Wren), Sowerhill Showmaster of Masseube (South Africa), Sowerhill Ryan (CACIB’s in France) and Sowerhill Ambassador (CACIB’s in Portugal). Truly wonderful ambassadors of the breed and examples of the persistent quality produced by the Sowerhill kennel.
Fearnley Fire Ember of Sowerhill (Sh Ch Sowerhill Satyr of Fearnley x Sh Ch Fearnley Fireflare, who herself was by Sowerhill Valentine (RCC)), when mated to Sh Ch Clonageera Tyrone, produced Sowerhill Jenny Wren, winner of 2 RCC’s & J.W. was in Olwen’s opinion, one of the best setters she ever bred. When Sowerhill Jenny Wren was mated to Sh Ch Jason of Andana of Clonageera, she produced Sh Ch Sowerhill Nobleman. This long illustrious line consistently produced quality, winning Irish Setters, the mark of a good breeder.
Olwen had her first Championship Show judging appointment at Windsor in 1971. She awarded CC’s at many other Championship Shows in Britain, including Crufts in 1981, awarding Sh Ch Kerryfair Night Fever his first CC. She had the honour to judge Crufts again in 2000, awarding Sh Ch Thendara Kennedy the CC. Olwen admired both of these dogs a great deal and both had a big influence on the Breed. I entered under Olwen at Crufts 2000 and was thrilled that this great lady thought my own boy Twoacres Fergus worthy of a 3rd place in a large Mid Limit class. I didn’t need the car to get home that day, I flew home on wings! As well as judging in Britain, Olwen also judged in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany & Ireland.
Olwen stopped judging towards the end of 2000 as she had to have a knee replacement operation, which unfortunately became infected with MRSA. This became so bad that she had to have the whole knee removed, leaving her only able to walk with the help of a zimmer frame, or go out in a wheel chair. A very sad state of affairs for someone as active as Olwen had always been. She still had one Irish Setter at this time to keep her company, she was Sowerhill Sintra. She won several Championship Show 1sts as a Junior, before Olwen was forced to give up showing completely.
Unknown to some in the Breed, Olwen also had Beagles for twenty five years, breeding one CC winner. She also bred and showed Lynx Rex Rabbits. She was also an active, valued committee member of the Irish Setter Association of England who awarded her Honorary Membership in recognition. Olwen also had a great love of wild birds. In her later years when she was confined to her home placed wonderful bird feeding stations near her windows which attracted many beautiful birds to her lovely Dulverton garden. Although Olwen missed being able to go to the shows, she continued to take an interest in the Breed she loved, being kept up to date by her very good friends in the Breed who visited her often right up until her sad death recently in April 2012.
The slide show features photos of Olwen and her beautiful Setters, as well as some of the dogs she used and some sired by her own dogs. To see the title of the photos, click on the ‘i’ icon in the top right hand corner of the slide show.