MRS. WILLIAM (GRACE) BURR HILL
December 24, 1902 – February 29, 1980
Grace Hill and her late husband William acquired their first Dachshund in 1942 and their second in 1943. As Grace and William continued to acquire Dachshunds while living in an apartment in New York City, Grace devised a plan so neighbors would not realize how many dogs she actually had – she would walk one red with one black and tan, but they were not always the same combination of dogs and bitches. This way neighbors thought she only had 4 dogs, but they commented, “Gee, you walk your dogs a lot everyday, Mrs. Hill!” Grace and William moved from their apartment in New York City to Massapequa, Long Island in October of 1946 – a location more suitable to having multiple dogs. Although William referred to the Massapequa home as “The Hill Estate,” they moved again in early 1949 to their home in Hicksville, Long Island that was in a multi-zoned residential-agricultural-industrial area right down the street from Sunny Shea’s famed Grandeur Afghan kennel.
Gracie had a tremendous capacity to keep track of details and an unyielding energy that allowed her to communicate continuously with Dachshund lovers nationwide. On May 26, 1950, twelve Long Islanders, united in a common interest in Dachshunds, met at the home of Grace and William and founded DALI. Among the officers elected were Grace Hill and Ramona Lancaster Andrews (Van Court/Jones). Two years later DALI had 152 nationwide members, thanks to Gracie’s hours and hours of typing and mimeographing notes and Newsletters. In 1959, the DALI Specialty moved its location to the front lawn of Grace’s home and remained there until 1968, after which Grace moved to Jacksonville, Florida. The shows at the Hill home were famous for the spacious, manicured and beautifully landscaped front lawn with its rose bushes and the occasional artificial flowers added to bare spots. The rings were very sizable, with plenty of shade trees where crates could be set up giving relief from the 90-degree daytime heat for both owners and dogs. To quote Peggy Aldis Westphal in the August 1966 American Dachshund:
DALI is Gracie! Or is Gracie DALI? Whichever proverbial cart is before whichever horse, this show has at its helm the dynamic Gracie Hill. And she puts her delightful stamp on it.
DALI attracts a record entry (352 this year), record crowds, and a staggering trophy list. But, despite these high-powered statistics, the show is gay, intimate, and relaxed. It is a garden party, a kaffee klatch, a block party all rolled into one.
This correspondent arrived at Gracie’s at 5:30 a.m. (It was survival of the fittest as to premium parking places, and believe it or not there were other early birds staked out.) The morning mists were evaporating. As yet there was no hint of the heat to come (upper 90’s), and I sat under a tree with my coffee, enjoying the sparkling lawn and Gracie’s beautiful roses. Suddenly, shrieks rent the air. There were Virginians Mary Howell and Jill Gotschall, distraught by the condition of the eventual Best of Breed winner, the long Ch. Robert de Bayard. Robert had been carsick, Robert’s stomach was upset, Robert had tipped over his water bowl – i.e., Robert was a mess.
To see the two suppliant ladies, with the bedraggled Robert, beseeching Gracie for the use of her bathtub at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. – pretty funny. (And in case I sound smug, the eventual BV Smooth winner, Ch. Sheen v Westphalen, almost didn’t make it. A can of Ajax and a swimming pool solved the problem of a black dog covered with gobs of white paint!)
As night began to fall at the DALI shows, the selections for BOB and BOS-BOB were made and then an accordion played, the crickets began their chirping, the Japanese lanterns bounced their light, the cocktail hour began. It was the end of a fabulous day.
Gracie, how do you do it? HOW?
Following my match show duties as admission watchdog, Grace began to show me the ropes of how a dog show was put on from behind the scenes. On our first road trip, with me as the appointed driver, we ventured to New Jersey to pick up John Cook and Philip Murphy III and then to historic Philadelphia into the antique and silver district with its multitude of deceptively narrow storefronts. While narrow, they were quite deep with silver pieces stacked on shelves and up in the rafters. It was very apparent that Grace, John and Phil were regulars at one particular shop, as the owner himself greeted them and gave large discounts on the sterling and silver-plate items purchased that day. With our purchases of DALI trophies and the DCA Directors’ trophy, we headed back home, but not before stopping at a lovely lakeside restaurant for dinner. By that time, I had a migraine-type headache and opted to take a nap in the car while my co-travelers dined sumptuously. I later learned that these meals were the focal points of all trips and that a lot of dog club business was discussed between the appetizer and dessert.
For the first DALI show I attended in 1967, I was appointed Admission Chairman. For the day of the shows, Grace’s property was enclosed with storm fencing and there was only one opening to get onto the property. I was instructed to let no one past me unless they
paid the admission fee – and I followed my instructions to the letter. Soon, Grace came huffing and puffing across the lawn and told me, to her embarrassment, I had charged the sweepstakes judge Ray Thomas admission and that was a no-no! Neophyte that I was, I had not met Ray, nor did I know what he looked like. The next foray into DALI Committee work was as Trophy Chairman – how hard could that be? It was an experience not to be forgotten. Not only did it involve soliciting trophies, but also working on the Premium List to be sure the trophies were equally spread though the classes, working with the show superintendent to proof-read the copy, polishing and wrapping trophies in saran wrap, setting the trophies up on the expansive three-tiered 12- to 15-foot-long trophy table, and making sure that the proper trophies were delivered to the rings for each class. It also involved picking up people at the airport at weird hours of the morning and finding that the challenge trophies they had taken home the year before needed polishing by 5 a.m., and discovering that one challenge trophy was missing – the Revere Bowl that Peggy Westphal had taken home the previous year and given to her dogs as a water bowl! The disaster of the day came for me when the 90-degree-plus sunny day resulted in the saran wrap on one of the trophies catching fire. This last show on Grace’s front lawn concluded with the presentation to Grace of a gold pin shaped in the outline of Long Island with a diamond mounted at the Hicksville, NY location.
Gracie was always promoting the breed. As well as bring one of the founders of DALI and NMDC in 1952, she was a member of and held office in several dog clubs, both all-breed and specialty. She served first as a director of the Dachshund Club of America in 1951, then as its Secretary in 1952 and 1953 and from 1955 until her death. After moving to Jacksonville, Florida in 1968, she was a founder of the Sunshine Dachshund Club of Jacksonville and a member of the Jacksonville Dog Fanciers Association. At the 1969 DCA dinner, Grace received a commission as a Commonwealth of Kentucky Colonel.
When Grace was hospitalized in February of 1980, Dee Hutchinson and I made plans to drive down from New York to visit her. I telephoned Grace in the hospital to tell her of our intentions and after a few minutes of conversation she asked me “Where are you?” to which I replied, “In New York.” Grace commented, “Oh that’s too bad.” Feeling I might be tiring her, I said good night, but Grace didn’t hang up the phone. I waited and waited and still the phone had not been hung up. I called the nurse’s station at the hospital and asked them to please check on Mrs. Hill since she had not hung up the phone. Early the next morning I received a phone call from Peg Hohl in Jacksonville telling me that Grace had passed away.
Shortly before Grace was hospitalized, her sister Mary had a stroke and was still hospitalized and basically in a coma at the time that I flew down to Jacksonville for Grace’s funeral. Grace had enlisted her young niece, Linda, to come and help with the dogs and I met Linda at Grace’s funeral. With all the Dachshund people Grace had helped and been friends with over the years, only myself, Lee Burnham and Jack and Peg Hohl attended the funeral along with family members. I remained in Florida for a few days visiting Mary in the hospital and talking with the niece on the telephone. Having served as DCA Assistant Secretary for 10 years and then as Recording Secretary for almost 2 years, the DCA Board decided that I should be the one to make arrangements to go Florida and collect the DCA properties and records at Grace’s home, but it was a while before Linda trusted me enough to let me come to the house by myself – no one else was allowed. I was also asked by NMDC to collect any properties belonging to them. By that time, Mary had partially recovered from the stroke but her ability to walk and her speech had been severely affected. After several weeks, perhaps months, Linda advised me that I could come and collect the DCA materials. Once there, Mary decided that all of the remaining dogs needed to be placed, including a litter of three miniature puppies. With Linda’s help, Mary was able to communicate to me that she wanted all the females spayed, but wanted to leave the boys intact “so they could have fun.” I tried to get each adult dog to Dachshund people who were either their breeders or who had some of their bloodlines. I got health certificates, rabies vaccinations, spays, etc. and shipped the adult dogs (thankfully not too many), to their various destinations.
In surveying the DCA and NMDC materials I needed to transport (rubber mats, stanchions, records and an IBM Selectric typewriter) it quickly became apparent that I would need to rent a van, not just a station wagon. What is termed a ‘rental van’ in Florida turned out to be a truck – the largest vehicle I had ever driven was a station wagon! On top of that, I was traveling with very young puppies with no crate and no exercise pen. Improvisation became the word of the day, as I traveled with whining, carsick puppies and stayed 2 nights at motels on the return trip home.
I stayed in touch with Linda by telephone and letter and as she emptied the house. Preparing to sell it, she found personal dog records that she shipped to me. Having no idea as to the value of some of Grace’s dog statues and collectibles, Linda had a yard sale and sold those items for twenty-five cents each. Linda moved Grace’s sister to her home in southern Florida and took care of Mary until she died about three years later.
The litter of puppies was sold with no papers and on spay/neuter agreements, with the money being sent to Grace’s niece. I gave each puppy a call name beginning with the letter “Z,” significant of the fact that these were the last Dachshunds bred by Grace Hill.
Jeanne Rice, February 2012