A Tribute to My Mentor  


by Joyce Johanson

Everyone needs at least one mentor in her life, and I have been fortunate to have many wonderful women who have helped me grow professionally and personally. The woman to whom I can attribute my successes in the show ring was a great mentor to me. Her name was Marge Lewis. I met Marge when I was such a green novice, having no idea what I was doing in the show ring but trying hard.  

Marge was a professional handler who began by showing Standard Poodles. When I met her, she was showing a lot of long-coated breeds (e.g., Yorkies and Maltese, which were the breeds that she bred). She showed Shih Tzu, Poms, Pekes, and some other toy breeds like Min Pins and Brussels Griffons. Of course, she also showed Lhasa Apsos and that was how I met her. Because she won frequently, I watched her show her dogs, hoping to learn something. However, I was always afraid to approach her. Why would someone as important as Marge want to talk to me?? I recall the one time I went to her grooming set up, her assistant was so rude and nasty that I thought Marge probably was also. Not true!!

It was actually Marge's friendliness at ringside that gave me the nerve to speak to her and ask her to show my Lhasa, Rocky. A specialty show was coming up in Texas, and that was Rocky's first trip with Marge. Rocky was 13 months old at the time, and he had 1 point. She and Rocky were a great pair. She put three majors (2 fives and a four) on him in 2 weekends, and he was finished in no time! She later specialed him.

When Marge started specialing Rocky, he was only 16 months old. I began traveling with her to help her with her other dogs and to defray some of my handling fees. I learned so much. With Marge, the dogs always came first. She was insistent each morning before they were shown that they be washed. (Please note that they had been fully bathed before even going to the show!) We washed feet, butts, and faces and blew the long-coated dogs dry prior to every show. Marge's dogs were always immaculate. They looked super and won often. From Marge I learned how to travel with dogs, how to groom, and how to show. I learned the jargon and protocol of the dog show world. Although I was a client, I was also her assistant so I ran with dogs from ring to ring often showing them for her when she was stuck in a ring and unable to make it to another; I was on potty duty and cleaned my share of dirty butts; and I did my share of grooming and bathing.  

Marge taught me to be a good sport. She was in the ring to win, but she was friends with so many other handlers and recognized that some days the wins went to others. She taught me that there is always another show, that you learn from your mistakes, and that always, the dogs come first.
It was because of working with Marge that I became adept at long-distance driving! We lived about 5 hours apart. I lived in David City, Nebraska. Marge lived in Independence, Missouri. On dog show weekends, I left home after school (I was a high school English teacher) as soon as I was allowed to leave, traveled to MO to ride to the show with Marge or traveled to the show site to meet her there. On Sundays, we often did not get back to Independence until very late at night. I drove home to NE, fighting sleep, often arriving just a couple hours before it was time to go teach on Monday mornings. My poor husband became a "dog-show widower" early in our marriage!  

I am thankful to all my mentors, but especially to Marge Lewis. The impact she made on my life was powerful. I'll always be grateful for her friendship and inspiration.