A Visit with Lee Holman
by David Kenney
(The American Brittany, May 1986)
Lee hadn't been well for several weeks, when I stopped by to see him after the running of the Central Futurity. A spell of the flu had kept him in bed for a time; but in the few days before my visit he had improved and was ready to chat about some of the dogs and people of long ago.
Probably no other person had so much to do with the early and continued development of the field trial Brittany in the United States, as did Lee. He recalls clearly the time when field trial competition for the breed was just beginning.
As a young man in rural Franklin County, Illinois, Lee trained pointers and setter, on his own account, and in the employ of the professionals Claude Tuttle, of Ina, and Evan Mansel, of McLeansboro. The latter had some Britts in his string and advised Lee to specialize in them. From Mr. Mansel, more than forty years ago, Lee acquired some foundation stock.
Franklin and Williamson Counties were rich in game in those days; Lee could ride from his door and put dogs quickly on wild birds. A gentleman name Mike Burnham, who had come from Texas to Illinois in the oil business, brought Lee a Britt which had exceptional talents in finding birds. "I broke him in ten days," Lee recalled.
As he grew interested in our discussion, Lee fastened his clear, level gave upon me and looked to me much as he had when I first knew him many years ago.
There was to be a field trial for Brittanys near St. Louis, in 1945 or '46 and Mr. Burnham asked Lee to enter the dog he had been working for him. Lee hesitated -- "I knew nothin about field trials" -- but Mr. Burnham persisted, and drove Lee and the dog to St. Louis.
The St. Louis Trial had attracted persons interested in the breed from considerable distances. Alan Stuyvesant was there from New Jersey and Lucien Ufford from Connecticut, Lee recalled. The dog he entered performed well at a time, Lee says, when few expected the niceties of manner which are standard today. He especially remembers that a solid back, from a considerable distance, attracted much attention. Some then believed that Brittanys "wouldn't back".
As a result of that performance, Lee remembers, Mr. Stuyvesant left two dogs with him, others came to him and, within a week of that visit to St. Louis, he had added five or six Brittanys to his string. It is safe to say that he was never after without dogs of the breed until his days as a trainer and handler ended many years later.
Lee first went to Canada for summer training in 1950, eventually acquiring property near Pierson where Jim, Janice and Chad still go to put the "prairie finish" on their dogs. Lee's last trip to Manitoba was in 1975. His training grounds there were quite close to John S. Gates, and he and John Rex spent as much time together as could be spared from the dogs, in fishing for walleyes and northern pike.
"Has the breed improved, Lee?" I asked. A long pause to consider, then: "Well, there are more good ones now, but some when I began were the equal of any running now." The name of Uno's Jet had been on Lee's tongue several times, and when I asked: "Could you name the best dog you ever had?", again there was a thoughtful pause, before he named Jet once more. Lee didn't say Jet was the best but in that context he was the only dog he mentioned.
Lee puts much emphasis on a dog's intelligence, as an important quality, and in that regard he rated Jet highly, "He would do what he was trained to do," Lee said. Jet could understand what was wanted of him in almost human fashion. Even after many years the details of Jet's premature death were clear in Lee's mind.
We talked about conformation. Lee places much importance on strong, compact feet and on legs correctly attached to the dog's body. Eyes should be "chisel shaped", he feels, and tight lidded. A dog poorly put together has little chance to make a dependable hunting companion.
I left Lee after an hour, feeling it a privilege to be allowed to share his knowledge.