Some sad news that Rosie Francis died on Monday, just three weeks before her 104th birthday. Those of us who knew her will all have our individual memories of her; for me she was such entertaining company ringside whilst we watched the judging. I think that the following article written by John Beacock who interviewed Rosie after she stepped down from being President of The Keeshond Club at their AGM in 2010, is a fitting tribute to a lovely lady.
‘ROSIE’ – Keeshond Club President 1992 – 2010
Rosie describes herself as a Kennel maid. Her part of the Swashway organisation is to feed and walk the dogs and apply a little swing of a brush before handing over the fine polishing to Eileen for show time. Typical of her to marginalise her efforts in this way, especially considering her part in the Keeshond story.
‘The Swashway’ is actually a channel just off the coast of Selsey but the Swashway we wanted is situated in the charming West Sussex village of North Mundham. Not a bad postcode with its illustrious neighbours that include Janette Scott and Charles Dance. Not far away sits the imposing Arundel Castle and the delightful town of Chichester. It is the most perfect place to raise and love Keeshonds and the Francis & Wilding duo have done just that virtually from day one.
Born Rosemary Iris Sadler, born on 21st June 1916 at Highbury, North London, halfway through the Great War. Rosie, an only child, recalls the four mongrel dogs that the family owned, and she looked after. Yes, she was still walking dogs then but it helped shape her mind for what she wanted in the future. Whilst still a baby the family moved to West Sussex, initially to Pagham, before moving to the village that would become her home for so many years. Rosie eventually married Arthur Francis who lived in North Mundham and she also recalls working at Woolworths in Chichester and a spell ‘on the buses’ as a Clippie for Southdown. For those not blessed with golden years, a ‘Clippie’ was a bus conductress (oh yes, we could say those things in those days) who used to ‘clip’ the tickets. Eileen was born in the house next door to Swashway and what was to become the enduring ‘Francis & Wilding’ partnership had begun.
Those who enjoy Rosie’s company will know what I mean when I say that it is a very special experience. Her home is an extension of the unique warmth that you feel as soon as you go in. Everywhere there are reminders of dogs and of times that she and Eileen have shared. My eyes were drawn to a picture that held pride of place on the wall – it was not of a Keeshond but of three Pekingese. Rosie explains that she once looked after these dogs for their owner, Mrs Montague Douglas-Scott who was a life-long friend of the Duchess of Norfolk. Quite what the relationship was between her and the aristocratic owners of Arundel Castle may never be known but it must have been quite close; because Rosie tells me on good authority that Mrs Montague was in the habit of borrowing the Duchess’ hat! Those that know Rosie well have listened to her stories over the years but I found a world exclusive when she told me how she was once buzzed by the Luftwaffe whilst out on a walk in the village. Not sure that Herman Goering had actually targeted our future President; it was probably a solitary lost airman heading for home.
I was shown the house (then owned by a banker in the village) from where their first Keeshond, from the Van Zandaam line, was gathered. The young Eileen was captivated by the litter of wriggling puppies and immediately set about working on her Father to be allowed to take one home. This dog became Ria of Mundham but not before a small family dispute ensued where Mr. Francis insisted that £5.00 was the absolute limit for a puppy. The Banker however wanted £15.00, so perhaps one of the first examples of puppy-haggling resulted in a resounding win for the young girl who went home cuddling her new friend. The year was 1948 and Rosie’s extraordinary story was well underway.
Their first ever show was a championship breed event held in London’s Grays Inn Road and they attended by train. Dogs were bred from Ria – one of whom was Silver Slipper who really started the show path by winning BCC & BOB at Crufts in the Coronation year of 1953 under the Dutch judge Mrs. Stentfert Kroese. If there was any doubt about the direction that Rosie would take then this early success was surely the catalyst. The ‘Mundham’ affix was eventually replaced by Swashway (granted by the Kennel Club in 1974) a name that lies rightfully with the greats of the breed and will be found in most of today’s pedigrees.
This is not a story of the Swashway Kennel, but to tell Rosie’s story it is difficult not to occasionally dip in to her extraordinary success with the dogs. Without any hesitation she recalls Ch Gelderland Clipper of Swashway as the best dog that she and Eileen owned and Ch Swashway The Pirate as the best that they bred. Asking her of her favourite Keeshond of all time it was Ch Ledwell Dutchman that topped the list. Rosie has seen many breeders come and go in her long life and speaks highly of them but when pressed on those she most respected, perhaps it is no surprise that she singles out Margot Emerson (Rhinevale) and Sylvia Scroggs (Ledwell).
It is probably fair to say that Rosie never sought Keeshond immortality by seeking high office but she was persuaded to join the Committee in 1978 and kept her head down until President Audrey Woodiwiss, in 1992, decided to retire and proposed Rosie for the post. Suddenly propelled to the highest position, Rosie, in her own gentle way, set about leading the Club as part of her extended family. It worked and Rosie became perhaps the most loved and respected President ever; especially during the Club’s huge 75th anniversary celebrations in 2000 where she found herself at the very centre of this first really international gathering of the world-wide Keeshond community. Few would forget the poignant photograph of her laying a spray of flowers on the grave of the Club’s first President Mrs G Wingfield-Digby in the grounds of Sherborne Castle in late glorious summer sunshine.
So, after eighteen years as President our Rosie has decided that, in her own words, at 94, it is probably time to call it a day and pass the baton on to her worthy successor, Doris Purdon. We have, however, not seen the last of Rosie who will still be coming to shows and meetings and will always welcome a chat and an opportunity to pass on her wisdom. At home she is still Swashway’s head dog walker, groomer and top puppy-picker. Her secondary duties include ironing, cooking (she will have a new kitchen soon) and a spot of gardening. Her hearing and eyesight may not be as good as they were, but what she loses in sensory faculties she makes up with her sharp mind and endless knowledge of our heritage.
We, as members of the Keeshond Club, have, over the years, taken the liberty of claiming a kind of maternal affinity with Rosie by her warmth and innocent insistence that there is good in everybody. Poor Eileen has had to ‘share’ her Mum with 350+ others who are all sad to see her go. However, Rosie remains strong and willing to help in any way. She has so many stories still to tell and is always eager to share her memories.
“A golden lady to whom we extend our thanks for being our President and friend”