In Memoriam - Pat Szymanski
By Jim, Carol, and Ben
Pat Szymanski was born on September 17, 1941 and died on November 10, 2007. Those of you who knew Pat don't need to be reminded of how special she was. Those of you who never met her missed meeting a very dynamic powerhouse of a woman. Her strong, determined personality is the primary reason that the Japanese Akita Club of America is in existence today.
She realized that the Japanese Akita would need defending in the United States, and she focused on that goal for many years. She bred some lovely dogs, but her greatest gift to the Japanese Akita was to promote, defend, and protect its purity. She is also the reason that JACA is the only club in the United States who was invited to represent the Japanese Akita in the World Union of Akita Clubs, an organization founded by the late chairman of the Japan Kennel Club, Mr. Toyosaku Kariyabu. She offended and angered some people along the way, but it didn't really matter to her as long as she was pushing toward her goal of recognition and acknowledgment of the Japanese Akita as a breed worldwide and particularly in the AKC show ring.
Although Pat worked hard she also loved to have fun, and she loved to laugh. She was energetic, witty, intelligent, a bit naughty at times, and was a very loyal friend to many people. She will always be missed by those who loved her and by the Japanese Akita fancy around the world.
It must've been around 1992 or '93 and I was already aware of Pat's reputation. I had called her about a year before I joined AKIHO to find out more about Japanese Akita puppies. Before I was able to introduce myself and get out a proper question, she started questioning me about my motives, my intentions, did I know the difference between the Japanese Akita and the American Akita, how did I hear about Akasta, etc. I had done some research on the breed, but it didn't matter because she was going to tell me what I already knew and then some. She started talking about different lines, kennels, importers, dogs and breeders. I realized that Pat was a wealth of history and information, so I listened (also I don't think she actually took a breath the whole time she was talking so I couldn't get a word in edgewise if I'd tried). After all that lecturing (now available in written form in the beloved little pink book), she told me she wouldn't sell any of her dogs until after they were six months old and she gave me a price. It was an exorbitant price.
I was thinking, "Who is this psycho woman?"
In hindsight, I was a newbie and Pat was my hazing. When I finally met Pat in person at an AKIHO show about a year later, she said she had a vague recollection of our conversation. "Did I really say those things to you?" she laughed in disbelief.
But by then I think Ben Herrera had put in a good word for me with the Texas contingent so I was allowed into the inner circle. That's when Pat admitted to me she often gave outrageous quotes for her dogs because she didn't really want to sell or get rid of any of them to strangers. One second, Pat could be all serious and business-like and the next she could be very down-to-earth and easy to get on with. Those who didn't know her well though might have found her a little intimidating and almost unapproachable. It took a few other experiences before Pat really warmed up to me though, and most of those encounters had to do with debates on a certain Akita e-mail list and the formation of JACA. I guess I had to prove my loyalty to the breed and the split to make a good impression on Pat.
I've got so many memories of Pat and most of them make me laugh. She used to get so riled up on some of those Akita lists, arguing with certain people, giving them all rather apt nicknames which I probably shouldn't repeat now. And we'd have to remind her of the honey/vinegar analogy to calm her down. I suspect her blood pressure was probably through the roof more than half the time she logged onto the internet. Eventually, somehow I got elected onto the board (or appointed more like) of AKIHO LA. Pat flew in for some "special" meetings or we'd have her on speaker phone due to some emergency situation. Those meetings were really only special because Pat did not suffer fools, so her body language, her facial expressions and the things she said under her breath were always outrageous, as some of you have already pointed out. She could be like a fidgety misbehaving teenager at times (the words petulant and impetuous come to mind) and it was quite funny back then to think here was this breeder with this international reputation acting like that. Mike Bennett spoke of Pat's honesty and yeah, I can second that. I remember being ringside with her and she would never pull any punches: "Oh that dog's a mess." She had a special affinity for the bad dogs and while she was quick to point out my bitch's physical faults, Pat always had something nice to say about her attitude (which really was a major fault). I don't think anyone laughed harder at me than Pat the time my bitch tried to bite an AKIHO judge when he was checking her mouth. And then when bitches owned respectively by Pat, the Sjobergs and me all got the Gold Award at the same AKIHO LA Branch Show, it was one of the coolest experiences ever. But the best times were spent breaking bread (or chopsticks) together either at the banquets or during the shows or once when I dragged everyone over to a Peruvian restaurant after a show. Watching Pat pick through an ethnic meal was always entertaining and her trying to do it with chopsticks was even better. I can only imagine how hilarious it was when she went to Japan.
I know how special Pat was to each and every one of us and how fearless she was in the fight to get the Japanese Akita recognized not just in the US but in other parts of the world as well. The only time I'd ever heard Pat express fear or dread was when she was first diagnosed with cancer and just before surgical procedures or beginning a round of chemo. But that fear and dread didn't stop her; she was courageous in her battle against the disease. Her will to live was great, so great that she wanted to have another round of chemo after her last surgery despite her first-hand knowledge of the side effects. Where Pat's spirit, courage and will were great, her body had already been through so much, and though I'll certainly miss her, I'm thankful she is no longer suffering. I'm sure we all know that her presence will live on in each of us. I was telling Carol Sjoberg that even though you can't just pick up the phone or send an email to share something with her, Pat was so much larger than life and made such an impression on all of us that you can probably hear her reaction anyway.
I can hardly imagine the split movement without Pat. Although I know there are many individuals involved, Pat has been the loudest mouth and a major driving force through it all. Her legacy remains in the Akasta lines and in the work she's done internationally in the Akita fancy (American and Japanese), but we all know her passion for the dogs themselves had been manifesting in working towards a split in the US. In tribute to Pat's life and memory, there are so many things we can do as has been suggested already. The memorial tributes on websites and in Akita World are fitting; keeping JACA going and continuing the fight for the split I'm sure would make Pat especially happy.