Dry leaves snap and crack as a brave woman dressed in a vibrant red coat and Abbey, her Pembroke Corgi, cross a hilltop in Cherokee Park.
It’s a crisp fall afternoon at the park’s popular hangout. Lost in their own playtime, the other dogs and their owners pay little attention to the playful pair running through the trees. But when Evalyn Gregory, whose friends call her Ev, stops to admire a couple’s pup, it’s clear she knows more about dog breeds and behavior than most.
Gregory has been a three-time judge for the world famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which usually takes place in January in New York City, but has been pushed back to June this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“To me, it’s like the Super Bowl of dog shows,” Gregory said. “Dogs are my calling. I’ve had other dreams for myself, like being a veterinarian or a psychologist, but my family always brought dogs back to me.”
Dogs are the core of Gregory’s Kentucky-bred family. The canine companions have played interesting roles throughout many generations of the family, which also include a Kentucky basketball team, a race car driver, and the world famous Hope Diamond.
Gregory’s family history it’s a story worthy of a Hollywood script with plenty of room for canine actors. His mother, Mamie Spears Reynolds Gregory, was the daughter of a US 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 mom had a very independent and fierce spirit,” Gregory told the Courier Journal. “She had her own racing team for a while in Asheville, North Carolina.”
Gregory’s great-grandmother, Evalyn Walsh McLean, was a Washington socialite whose father made a fortune in 1896 mining gold in Colorado. As a result, Ev Gregory’s great-grandmother grew up in a magnificent Washington DC mansion, married the heir to The Washington Post, and was the last private owner of the legendary and supposedly cursed Hope Diamond.
Yes, what Giant 45 carat diamond. The same one you can visit at the Smithsonian Institution.
McLean is said to have occasionally let his Great Dane, Mike, wear the infamous diamond around his strong neck.
Gregory’s parents’ love story began, you guessed it, at a dog show.
“My father had first seen a picture of a Boxer in the Courier Journal and that’s how he became interested in the breed,” Gregory recalls. “He won Best in Show at a dog show in North Carolina where my mom was the trophy presenter. So I guess she was in the stars.”
Joe Gregory is originally from Cloverport, a small Kentucky town on the Ohio River. After he and Mamie got married, they moved to Louisville and started a family where Ev Gregory and his older brother, Joseph, grew up in a home full of animals.
“In addition to many, many breeds of dogs, we’ve had Pygmy and Nubian goats, miniature horses and a duck,” Gregory said. “The duck was one I found wandering around in the rain at a dog show in Florida. We adopted it and named it Herald for the Miami Herald newspaper.”
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Gregory feels that the care and compassion his parents gave their menagerie created a home filled with extraordinary human kindness.
“My mother passed away in 2014, but while she was alive, she was the biggest animal lover I’ve ever known and I’m sure that’s why my parents created such a loving home for me and my brother,” she said. “There has always been so much love.”
A few years before she was born, Gregory’s parents bought the Kentucky Colonels. The Louisville-based basketball team was a colorful franchise in the 1960s and not just because of its bright chartreuse green uniforms. Among the things the team was known for was their “pet” Ziggy, a prize dog Brussels Griffon.
“My mom loved the Brussels Griffon breed and Ziggy was our family pet that was loved by the players and fans,” he said. “He had his own seat for 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 throughout the United States. When he was 10 years old, Gregory began handling dogs on his own.
“I had been coached early in my life on how to walk a dog, what speed to run different breeds of dogs, and all the responsibilities that were required of me so that when I stepped into that show ring to compete, I would be in control of myself. dog, and more importantly, we’d be having fun together because that’s what it’s all about,” Gregory said.
At Westminster, he drove a Brussels Griffon that came second in the 1996 Toy Group. With his mother, Gregory co-owned the 2009 Toy Group winner Lincoln, a Brussels Griffon who is still the furry Brussels Griffon. winning smooth of all time.
His parents have been his mentors, and even today, Gregory travels with his father Joe Gregory, who at 94 is still judging dogs all over the world.
Gregory said another thing he learned from his mother is the importance of coordinating his outfits to fit a dog’s appearance and personality. It is 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 downplay the dogs,” Gregory said. “I have selected a long dress and the jewelry I will wear will be very special pieces that belonged to my mom.”
The accessories she’ll wear during Fox Sports’ Tuesday, January 25 telecast will be sentimental, but nothing quite as sparkly as her great-grandmother’s Hope Diamond.
Gregory’s brother, Joseph McLean Gregory, has written a book about the supposedly cursed gemstone, which his great-grandmother bought in 1911 when she was just 24 years old: “The Hope Diamond Evalyn Walsh McLean and the Captivating Mystery of the World’s Most Alluring Jewel.” . He also created a perfume that he says was inspired by the legendary but ill-fated jewel.
His great-grandmother’s story, writes Joseph Gregory, “was full of 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 movies.
The house 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 surprised that my great-grandmother and grandmother lived here,” Gregory said. “It’s like a goddamn hotel. I would have loved to hear their stories about what it was like to throw parties and live there in the 1940s.”
After her great-grandmother’s death in 1947, Harry Winston, Inc. purchased the Hope Diamond along with the rest of the heiress’s extensive jewelry collection, which also included the 94-carat Eastern Star. In 1958, they donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, and almost immediately the large blue stone became its main attraction.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe this has all been part of my family. I feel so honored,” Gregory said as he lifted Abbey onto his lap.
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“My mom kept my life very low key so I could figure out what was important to me and this is it,” Gregory said looking at his 10-year-old canine companion. You know why she’s called Abbey, right? It’s for Westminster.
In Abbey’s case, Westminster is more of a nod to the historic Church of England than the dog show that Gregory will be judging later this year. Abbey is staying in Louisville with a dog handler while Gregory spends a long day in the ring. She’s been assigned to judge the toy and non-sporting groups and multiple sporting, working, beagle and terrier breeds, but a long day between dogs is a spectacular day for this judge from Kentucky.
“Westminster is the second-longest continuous sporting event in the country, second only to the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “That seems appropriate, doesn’t it?”
Contact Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @kirbylouisville.