A Tribute to Margie Cairns

Margie Cairns

This is one of my favourite photographs of Margie. Whenever I look at it I realise how fortunate I was to have shared her life for so many wonderful years. Roy (F. Roy Ellison)

Margaret “Margie” Cairns (Blaircourt) needs no introduction to anyone involved in gun dogs. To those who came in over the past few years and don’t know her well perhaps I could enlighten them of one of the greats in dogs they were unlucky not to have shared some time with.

Together with husband Grant, a charismatic man and Chief Stewart at SKC, they made a great team, but Margie kept more to the background in the early years. They were to the fore in Labrador breeding in Britain after the war culminating in their winning of Crufts Reserve Best in Show with Ruler of Blaircourt, handled by Grant, who got the best out of their labradors. However Sandylands Tweed of Blaircourt, so influential, and owned by their great friend, Gwen Broadley, really made the Blaircourt kennel famous world wide, setting, along with several other dedicated breeders, the breed type, loved throughout the world. Sam of Blaircourt was especially famous in the USA. Temperament and type were the Blaircourt priorities. Great Labrador breeders they certainly were. Think about it. 11 Labrador champions made up when it was difficult to travel throughout Britain. From Scotland down through Carlisle, Kendal, congestion for hours, no motorways, slow roads, saloon cars, not the best for carrying Labradors, train journeys, slow boat to Belfast overnight, rationing, days away from home on many occasions. It was also a time of great austerity for many people and to those who think dog exhibiting is very expensive today it was quite a struggle then.

After a lifetime (it seemed) showing and breeding the famous Blaircourt Labradors with Grant, her second life in dogs was arguably as important as success in the ring. Grant had passed away and Margie, always actively involved at SKC and the KC, was involved in revising breed standards, and was chair of the Show Scheduling Committee of the SKC. We in the Labrador Club of Scotland are proud she is our Hon. President. However she is enormously proud of the Gundog Breeds Association of Scotland she founded in 1978 together with her great friends, Roy Ellison and his late wife Eileen. She held the office of President till just a few years ago and on retiral Margie and Roy were honoured to be made Honorary Presidents.

No one had to tell Margie when it was time to go whether it was in the ring judging or in her official duties. Margie was always a star in the big ring and her last judging appointment was in 2005 when she did Best in Show at her beloved Gundog Breeds of Scotland Association show. High heels and in complete command of her ring she went out at the top. When she retired from judging she was Scotland’s only Championship Show Gundog Group Judge.

All of the above is impressive and a life in dogs well done. But what about Margie as a person. Well . . . she spoke her mind . . . carefully. Every word in committee was well thought out before it left her lips. And we all listened! Experience is necessary but wisdom is the gift of a few. Every club needs a Margie Cairns. There were some occasions when she let us youngsters have our way and was very open to ideas to improve the club shows. We youngsters (the well-brought-up ones) thought it prudent to call her Mrs Cairns but a twinkle in her eye gave the hint we were too old fashioned. Away from committee business no one could get us all going better then she. She could draw water from stone. No matter how one tried she nearly always got the answer she sought. And how we laughed. Very few young people are lucky enough to have an old friend who can talk about everyday matters and joke about risqué subjects completely at ease and up-to-date with how we lead our lives. Reputably, I may add! Her appearance at the Scottish shows always cheers us up. We are fortunate to have spent many years with a unique Scottish lady.

Jim Nolan

(This article has been reprinted with the permission of Mr. F. Roy Ellison)

In June 2003 Caroline and I visited England specifically to attend the 100 Years of the Labrador Celebration held at Belvoir Castle near Grantham. On our second morning, at breakfast, we were seated next to Mrs. Cairns and had the opportunity to have a brief conversation. She was a contemporary of my good friend and former mentor Lady Jacqueline Barlow as well as knowing Col and Mrs. Wormald of Knaith Kennels. Mrs. Cairns was very charming and gracious and shared some of her memories from that era with us. I will be forever grateful for her kindness and generosity of spirit. Roger Bannister

Many of today's exhibitors were not around when the wonderful Blaircourt dogs were shown in the ring by Margie's husband Grant. However, there is no doubt that they had an unparalleled influence in the breed and will be remembered long after we are all gone.

The Labrador Club of Scotland was privileged to have Margie Cairns as their Hon. President and we are very fortunate indeed to have had the opportunity to spent time with this distinguished Scottish lady.

She would faithfully attend the club shows every year with Roy and we were always delighted to have her there. She was a lady of great reputation and charm.

Jim Nolan’s tribute gives a great insight into the lady behind the legend that was Blaircourt.

We have lost an ardent supporter of our club and a friend to many involved in Labradors worldwide. Blaircourt Labradors will go down in history as being one of the most celebrated and renowned kennels of all time. Margie Cairns and Blaircourt will never be forgotten. Margaret Brown, President of The Labrador Club of Scotland

What a wonderful way to honor a most gracious and lovely lady. Margie Cairns judging at the Potomac was always a first class act! She made every handler feel comfortable and special. Her Blaircourt Labradors influenced so many of our lines here and just made them better. Anne Evans

Having Margie comment that my puppy's head was absolutely lovely was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received; and brought smiles to Dorothea George's and Marilyn Reynold's faces (the puppy's breeders) as well. Cindy Hargaugh

Mrs. Cairns was a most delightful lady. She was encouraging to all and had kind words about the dogs you presented her. A wonderful sense of humor and a grand memory. What a lovely lady and one I greatly admired. Carol Heidl

Margaret Blair Yuill Cairns was a most extraordinarily exceptional lady whose Blaircourt line of Labradors made a significantly important contribution to the Labrador Retriever breed as we know it today. Her stud dogs' influence upon this breed are legendary. In addition, her judging was greatly respected worldwide and was held in very high esteem by exhibitors of many breeds, Labrador Retrievers especially.

Margie's lyrical use of the English language defined her intellect, intelligence, and her wonderful sense of humor. She was a lady of great integrity, and her friendship and love were very important to those who treasured their relationship with her. Her administrative skills were greatly respected and admired by those in the dog world in Great Britain.

Ballymargaret of Blackamoor JH will be shown in the Hunting Retriever Bitch Class at this show in honor of her namesake.

Harrison Price Jessup, Member
The Labrador Club of Scotland
Gundog Breeds Association of Scotland
(Founded by Mrs. Margaret Cairns and Mr. & Mrs. Roy Ellison)

My memories of Margie are too numerous to put on these pages and I am grateful for all of them. It was an honor and privilege to know her, and I thank her for her great wisdom and her friendship. Her sweet smile and sparkling eyes, and her sincerity were ever present in times of great joy and great sadness. While at CRUFTS, Margie and Roy invited me to attend The Kennel Club luncheon. It was a memorable experience for me, but I remember so very well the extraordinary depth of respect Margie received from so many friends that afternoon. It was heartwarming and once again made me realize she was "one of a kind". I miss her very much and I am very proud to have called her my friend. Very sincerely, Sherry Jessup

Oh Margie, How we miss you! Your great knowledge of the Labrador, all you have given to our beloved breed. The advice and discussions on building a breeding program, setting a type and correcting faults. Your ever so soft, gentle and loving hand as you judged our dogs. The kind but always honest words to the exhibitors, making your knowledge and expertise so in demand.

The ever present "twinkle in your eyes" and sweet smile was a door that opened to reveal a true lady in every sense of the word, certainly worth emulating. I remember when your wicked and "colorful" sense of humor actually had me rolling on the floor in Sherrys' kitchen. Your genuine warmth and interest made people so comfortable when they approached you for advice.

You so enjoyed life, and therefore it was a never ending journey of learning, exploring and experiencing. You were our "Treasure". A true "Original."

So many people could learn from your example our dear Margie; how to live and conduct their lives with the eloquence and grace of a queen, full of integrity and truth and above all the respect and kindness you gave to each of us.

It is with great honor and reverence to say you were my friend. Most Sincerely, Nancy Hope Love and the Labradors of Brookland

I will never forget my first encounter with Margie. I was a raw newbie, attending my first Specialty with my first Labrador - Colquhoun’s Caitlin (“Katie”) who became our foundation bitch. It was November 1986, and the Labrador Retriever Club of Greater Denver was holding its inaugural Specialty. Margie was the judge for regular and non-regular classes and intersex.

I had entered Katie in Open Yellow, and it was a large class. As we came into the ring I noticed Margie was watching Katie. She kept coming back to her – if she was going over bitches in front of me, she would glance down the line at Katie, and if she had already examined Katie and was further down the line, she would glance back for another look. After everyone had been individually examined and gaited Margie stood in the middle of the ring and went down the line again – but she still seemed fixated on Katie. I was a wreck.

Now, I loved my Katie – she was a cobby little English bitch, but she did have quite the gay tail. Finally, Margie walked directly over to me, smiled sweetly, and in her wonderful Scottish brogue said quietly to me, “I simply love your bitch – but I canna stand her tail. I’ll have to make you third”! Those of you have known me for some time know that I have long had a “thing” for tails, first in my breeding program and later in my judging preferences. Now, you know where it came from!

I’ve shared this little story over the years with a few people and we’ve always had a good laugh. When I heard of Margie’s passing, I remembered it again, and thought of how her simple words that day sent a message but delivered it with such grace. There were dogs aplenty that stopped their playing the moment Margie left us, and turned to look at Heaven’s gate, waiting for her to make her grand entrance. Thank you, Margie, for all you gave to our breed – and for being my unknowing mentor. Greg Lynch, Kellyn Labradors

My first labrador was a son of CH Great Scot of Ayr, a grandson of Eng Ch. Tweed of Blaircourt. Margie was like a rock star in labradors so it was in great awe that 30 plus years later I got to sit across from her and have tea with her at Sherry Jessup's tea room, and just listen. Debra McKinley

My tribute to Margie will be to remember who she was, a soft-spoken Scot with a delightful smile and sense of humor.

To remember the Blaircourt Labradors and how strongly they influenced our breed. You cannot pick up a book about the Labrador Retriever without finding pictures of the dogs who preceded and produced perhaps the most influential Labrador, Eng.CH. Sandylands Tweed of Blaircourt.

To remember how fortunate I am to have met and known this great lady who, with her husband Grant, did so much in the development of the Labrador Retriever we know today. Linda Oldham

The Blaircourt labradors are legendary worldwide in their contribution to breed type as we know it. After establishing the Blaircourt line with her husband,Grant, Margie's depth of knowledge and artistic eye led her into judging where she earned the respect and admiration of exhibitors and breeders throughout the world.

Margie lived her life with enthusiasm, grace and a wonderful sense of humor. One of my first memories of Margie occurred in 1978 when she judged her first LRCP show. She had several things she wanted to do after the show but a very short time in which to do them. Jan Churchill solved this by flying to Dulles to collect Margie to fly her to Connecticut to have lunch with her friends Kurt and Evie Uncklebach. She was undaunted by the fact it was her first flight in a small plane. As we flew over Washington, suddenly a loud, clanking occurred as a bolt rolled across the cockpit landing under Margie's feet. Completely calm with twinkling twinkling eyes and soft lilting voice she turned to Jan and quietly asked " was that something terribly necessary to your plane?" After lunch, Jan took a route to Washington which flew directly over New York city where Margie was able to capture beautiful photographs of the river, skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Whether flying around in a little plane or enjoying a quiet cup of tea you always knew that spending time with Margie were very special moments.

Margie's kindness and loyalty were gifts she gave in abundance to her friends and family. The keen insight and wisdom she so willingly shared and her extraordinary sense of humor always put things in the proper prospective. The respect and love she received throughout the world simply reflected the great respect she bestowed upon those fortunate enough to know her. I miss her dearly and will always cherish the lovely memories I have of our friendship. To Margie, with love, respect and gratitude. Marilyn Reynolds, Finchingfield

I have always thought the Potomac Specialty and Margie Cairns were a good fit and surely it is fitting we dedicate this show to her memory. Both are great ladies of the Labrador family. Each knew how to distinguish the exceptional from the merely good and both knew how to encourage the dedicated among us. Friendship and honesty, spiced with that special flavor of courtesy - these are the hallmarks of Margie Cairns and "the Potomac". She would wish each of you well today and, like her own, a long life and greatness to our annual family reunion. David Schnare

I remember it like it was yesterday. The show was Potomac 2000. I was a nervous wreck as I walked into the huge ring with Tuxedo . It was my first time showing in the breed at Potomac and it was very intimidating. Next to me was Kathy Wolf of Blackdux Labradors. She was very kind and offered words of encouragement knowing how nervous I was. We had gone through rounds of cuts and I couldn’t believe I was asked to come back and stay again and again. Best of Breed/Best of Winners and Best of Opposite Sex had been chosen and there I was in the corner of ring 1 up underneath the big tent and lost in the crowd. I will never forget this sweet “little” lady, Margie Cairns, walking up to me from across the ring. As she approached she said … There you are and gave Tuxedo a JAM! Needless to say, Kim and I were thrilled!

The Labrador community is truly fortunate to have had Margie Cairns, as well as other prominent breeders that we have lost, as shepherd of our breed. May God Bless… Michael & Kimberlee Silva, Shadowbrook Labradors.

The first time I met Margie was when she came to judge the Potomac sometime in the 80's. I believe that David and Marlene Hepper were also here judging as well, when the Old Dominion KC and Middleberg KC shows followed our show in Leesburg. I was helping with judges' hospitality and Margie would be staying with us at our home for a few days after the show. I had shopped to make sure I had all manner of special teas available for our English guests. During our first breakfast, Margie pulled me aside and asked if I had any of these kinds of tea bags, showing me a Lipton tea bag!! I was so surprised that I started to laugh. She whispered to me that Lipton was her favorite tea and asked me if I was disappointed in her English guest!! We had a great laugh over that. I still remember her sweet face and sparkling eyes as she winked at our secret amusement. Margie was not pretentious, but ! she was a lady. She was not mean but could be stern. She had a wry and perhaps even a wicked sense of humor. But she always had such a kind way with the dogs. I always marvelled at how she could rattle off pedigrees of dogs in her kennel as well as those of numerous other kennels from generation to generation.

Later, I had the privilege of spending a week with her and Roy sightseeing in Boston after one of the Connecticutt shows. She was in her early 70's then and she showed no signs of slowing down and wanted to see everything and we did!! She had an amazing spirit that shined through every minute. You just knew you were in the presence of someone special. Diane Wilson

I first met Margie Cairns when she judged at the "Potomac" in 1978. This was when the Potomac Specialty was held on Friday in Leesburg, Virginia. On that beautiful and warm day, Margie's judging assignment was entry of 164, including intersex and non-regular, and her only divided classes were the open bitches. Upon the conclusion of her judging assignment, her comment to me was, "Wasn't that lovely! I should like to do it all over again!" And so she did in 1988, 1995, 2000 and 2005, as the show grew into what it is today. Margie always had a warm smile and kind word for all she met. I shall miss that sweet smile and elegant "Queen Mum" presence which graced the Potomac specialty for so many years. Margaret S. Wilson, ShadowGlen