|Mr. George Bragaw|
Comes the dawn, its grey shroud too infirm to cover the sounds of life but enough to allow a man his graceful return to nature. This is how I shall always remember George Bragaw, a man at one with all manner of life, with the grace to thrive among people and the wisdom to be at peace on the land. In his final week, George asked me to write about him, to tell his story in brief. But George was a mountain that sheltered so many interests, so many people and so many stories that his story will be told only when each of us have spoken. Thus I share with you what little I have learned in my twenty years of friendship with him, recognizing that too much will go untold.
A government depends on those of its citizens with wisdom, knowledge and experience. George had a full measure of each. He was an articulate man, with baccalaureate and masters degrees in English. He spoke in measured tones, carefully selecting those words that fully and completely embraced his message. Communication was one of his crafts, well learned and hard earned. George plied his craft for three decades as a federal public servant, working with people at every level of government. In a city that revels in petty political discourse, George learned to take the long view, see the sweep of history at play and support those whose actions would foster a better nation.
|Perhaps it was his governmental experience, perhaps the influence
of his family, or perhaps it was some innate wisdom – from whatever the
source, George understood people. He honored the nature of an individual,
the person’s strengths and weaknesses, and would not demean a person with
weaknesses because he refused to demean a person with strengths. He knew
how to work with people so that strengths combined, leaving weaknesses in
shadow. Perhaps he learned this skill not from people but from his
inordinate success with the Labrador.
In terms of pedigree, George came down from the two most influential Americans in Labrador retrievers, Mrs. Helen Warwick (Lockerbie) and Mrs. Joan Redmond Read (Chidley). These two recognized the challenge of preserving the original Labrador in the United States, and worked assiduously on the breed’s behalf. They had no better successor than George Bragaw and his Shookstown kennels.
|Most influential in Labrador’s were two Shookstown champions,
Lucifer and Solo Smasher. Lucifer stood behind Springfield Jeeves and
Springfield Camomile, two early elements of Mrs. R.V. Clark’s preeminent
Virginia kennel. Lucifer brought forward the Sandylands Tarquin strengths
of substance, balance and particularly, breed type.
Solo Smasher, long a fixture at the knee of his owner Stephen Graham (with Betty, Graemoor Kennels) this black dog had what many believed to be the ideal Labrador expression. Although rarely one to fail with words, George described the proper Labrador expression as “once seen it cannot be forgotten.” On another occasion, when pressed for definition of the proper male head, he said “Go look at Solo Smasher.” He was not alone in lauding this dog. Helen Warwick proclaimed that Smasher would “turn out to be more influential than most of us realize.”
George always considered Shookstown Gimlet Cinders his favorite, but perhaps the most important dog he bred was Gimlet out of Sandylands Midas and Shookstown Rivermist Hathir. Gimlet produced both Cinders and Solo Smasher, and through them establishing “working drive” as a hallmark of the Shookstown line.
|The natural intersection of dogs and people is the dog club. Twenty-five years ago, recognizing the unmet needs of local fanciers, George convened a small group and founded the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac. Considered the most prestigious Labrador specialty show on the continent, the LRCP spring show has routinely ranked as one of the nation’s ten largest specialty shows offered by any breed. Using the show as a test bed, George promoted a variety of advances through the Potomac specialty, including splitting classes by color and implementation of hunting retriever and field trial classes. He fostered a complete club that offered obedience, tracking, working certificates, hunting tests and conformation shows. With his active support, the LRCP dedicated itself to supporting research on genetic diseases in the Labrador and to supporting the highly successful LRCP Lab Rescue, a separate organization whose generosity and commitment to the unwanted Labrador reflects George’s own values. So too, when the Labrador community recognized the need for a new national organization, they tapped George as Chairman of the Board of the Labrador Retriever Club of the United States (LRCUS).|
Photo by Tatham
An AKC licensed judge for Best in Show, the Sporting and Herding groups, and various other breeds, with assignments at Westminster, the Labrador national specialty, the Canadian national specialty, and at other important international venues, George became a resource throughout the world, but especially in the United States. He strongly supported all-breed venues, including his favorite Rock Creek Kennel Club, of which he was a member, and the North American Hunting Retriever Association, of which he was a member and strong supporter.
|In the final years, one predominant issue captured his full attention - the "battle against the new American Labrador standard." As a man so well versed in the use of the English language, George was profoundly upset at the new standard, its inaccuracies and ambiguities. In the simplest, yet most fundamental terms he stated repeatedly, "The standard does not describe the Labrador." At his end, he gave most of his energy in opposition to this standard, working closely with the Labrador Defense Fund, and wanted others to do so as well.|
His gentle spirit and kind manner, his eloquence, his vision, his commitment and his professionalism, his leadership and his friendship – the Labrador world has lost one of its finest and most faithful friends. His spirit will long lie over this land, and give personal meaning to Robert Louis Stevenson’s sweet refrain: “Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from the sea; And the hunter home from the hill.” Goodbye George. May God bless you.
Photos By Price Jessup