During the Great Depression, a young, college-educated divorcee emerged from the hills of North Carolina to one day take the Pomeranian breed to a high that no one has since been able to match—a Westminster Best in Show. To say that Ruth Lowery Beam was ahead of her time would be an understatement.
Born April 2, 1913, Ruth was a self-described “tom boy” growing up. She enjoyed the outdoors, dabbled in carpentry, and aspired to become a Physical Education Teacher. A 1937 graduate of what is now UNC Greensboro, Ruth Lowery attempted to pursue her first passion of becoming a teacher. However, she was unable to find a job due to the limited opportunities. She married for a brief period (six months, to be exact), but chose electricity and running water over Bobby Beam’s idea of married life. (I wonder if this had anything to do with the name of her three-legged dog, Great Elms Bobby Beam?)
Shortly after her father died, Ruth moved in with her mother and helped to run the family general store. She also began breeding dogs as a hobby. Among her list of breeds were Boston Terriers, Pekingese, and one Cocker Spaniel. But her love for Pomeranians came about after being introduced to the breed through her brother. On a visit to New York, he’d caught sight of one of the original Timstopper dogs. When he returned home, he enlightened Ruth with the story of the beautiful dog he had seen. She had never set eyes on a Pomeranian before. Pomeranians, however, were to become her new hobby breed, and later, her life’s passion.
In 1950, Ruth registered her kennel under the name of Great Elms (named after the 10 Elm Trees in her backyard) and started producing her own show dogs. She finished her first two champions that year. As a breeder/owner-handler, Ruth achieved Group placements and handled one of her favorite all-time Pomeranians, Great Elms Little Timstopper. Her mentor was Gladys Schoenberg of Aristic Poms. Mrs. Schoenberg herself was not the typical breeder of her time. Unlike others, she was willing to share her lines with breeders who were not upper-class.
When Ruth first ventured into breeding, email and cell phones were yet to be invented. Communication was done via letter, magazine ads, and late-night calls. Her typical day was rising at noon and working until 4:00 a.m. in order to make herself available for those telephone calls, which were considered to be quite pricey. The shipping of dogs was limited to train. Via train was the means by which Ruth received her first Pomeranian. It was because of this limited access to non-local dogs that breeders were more inclined to breed to their own dogs. This resulted in leading Ruth down the road that would define her breeding philosophies,
and later, produce a line that would have a strong and lasting impact on the Pomeranian breed.
Ruth was a strong believer in linebreeding. She was keen on breeding daughter to father and niece to uncle, but her favorite was granddaughter to grandsire. When it came time for breeding, Ruth first looked at the overall condition of the dam. Then she evaluated the dam and the sire to match up their qualities while also taking into consideration the pedigree. As far as Ruth was concerned, the sire did not necessarily need to be a champion, as long as he was the best choice for that dam. When breeding within her own lines, she believed the outcome was representative of the grandparents rather than the parents.
Though her original preference was the smaller, prettier, four-pound dams, she grew tired of the c-sections and losing mothers during the surgeries. (During those times, there was a high risk of losing girls due to the lack of veterinary knowledge.) Through these experiences, Ruth molded her philosophy that she would later pass down to other breeders, stating to never breed a girl under five pounds. Her ideal was five to six pounds of better quality. Though many of her girls could have become champion bitches, they were never shown because she needed them in her program. Instead, Ruth focused mostly on finishing
Those who are most familiar with Ruth associate her breeding philosophy with a technique called “stamping.” As a breeder of her own line, Ruth believed in breeding to the sire of a great dog. Her reasons were that the sire was the one who produced the qualities in the winning dog. The stamping technique comes into play when you take a dam of your own line and breed it to that winning dog’s sire. If the qualities you are seeking are produced in the litter, then you take the offspring and bring it back into your line. In order to stamp the dog, you breed back to the sire in the third generation. This will stamp the look of that dog. Stamping is something that some believe to be more challenging today due to the limited number of pure lines and the
Ruth’s ideal Pom had a huge red coat with a pretty head. Her dogs’ typical look carried a more foxy head, which was preferred by many back in the early days. She valued style, head carriage, and outline. She had a knack for training her dogs well. As referred to earlier as her favorite Pom, her ideal was most well-represented in Ch. Great Elms Little Timstopper.
After the passing of her mother, handling dogs became too much for Ruth. Among those who handled her dogs were Clara Alford and Maynard Wood. Ruth’s highest honor as a breeder would come in 1987 when Am. Ch. Great Elms Prince
Charming II would win the elusive Best in Show at The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Ruth continued to breed Pomeranians until she turned 94 years old. Since this article was first written, Ruth has joined her many wonderful Poms across the rainbow bridge at the age of 99 years old, on June 1, 2012. Among her many accomplishments mentioned above, Ruth also battled cancer and won, built her own kennel by hand, and found herself admired by many. Though Ruth never had any children, she was a mother figure to many. Among these is Ken Griffith of Lenette Poms. Ken adopted Ruth as a mother figure after the passing of his own mother. Laura Jennings is another, and is the caretaker of Ruth’s remaining Poms. Last, but certainly not least, is Maynard Wood who attributes his start in handling to Ruth. Among all those you talk to who knew Ruth well, a few things are consistent. She was well-respected, understood to be honest, helpful, and understanding and, most of all, she
Many thanks go to Maynard Wood, Ken Griffith, and Laura Jennings who shared their beautiful memories of Ruth and helped to make this article.
by Christine Crane