The early days

Katie was born Kathleen Jean Kirkby on February 22, 1917, in Northampton, UK.  At age 20 she married John Eldred and bore him three children: Sara Virginia, Revett Alexander, and Gervase (Geoff) Willington.  She and John divorced in 1948 and she then raised all three kids on her own, in post-war Britain complete with rationing and nothing more than a secretary's salary.  She was a powerful role model for her offspring.

Known back then as Jean, Katie was always a dog person, but became particularly interested in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels through her sister, Daphne, already a breeder in her teens.

Turnworth Cavaliers

Katie started selectively breeding Cavaliers even before she gave birth to her first child.  She operated under the name Turnworth Kennels, later Turnworth Cavaliers, the name being derived from a time when she lived in the village of Turnworth, Dorset.   She quickly developed a positive reputation, becoming known as a champion of the breed and, along the way, developing strong and occasionally controversial opinions about desirable characteristics.

She selected potential owners of her puppies as carefully as she selected breeding pairs.


After two of Katie's three children left home, she and Geoff moved in 1961 from Newbury to the Isle of Wight.  But wanderlust soon got the better of her and she and Geoff followed Sara's example and emigrated to the United States in 1963.  Sara had originally emigrated to New York where she worked for Time-Life publications, but an English accent, a pretty demeanour, and a sense of humour led her to enroll with PanAm as an 'air hostess', so she moved across the country to San Francisco.  Katie decided to go straight west, bypassing the East Coast, and found both a home and employment in Novato, a small town near San Rafael north of San Francisco.  She started her career with McGraw Hill publishing company.

It was after an ill-fated love affair with a co-worker that Katie transferred to McGraw Hill's southern California office in Glendale, near Los Angeles.  There she found a home in Agua Dulce in the Mojave Desert, a locale that she came to love beyond every other place she had lived.  She lived in Agua Dulce quietly and happily, surrounded by dogs and goats, daily commuting 80 Km each way in a Ford Pinto - which never once exploded! - until her retirement in the late 1970s.

A brief flirtation

While living in Agua Dulce, Katie 'discovered' the Pharoah Hound.

She later used to say that were it not for the breed's necessary high degree of maintenance she would have transferred her love of dogs from Cavaliers to Pharoahs.  But their constant running away and need for huge amounts of exercise kept Katie's expectations in the world of reality.

Retirement in Canada

Katie lived the last 40 years of her life in various locations in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.  Until her 90s she remained independent, living on her own surrounded by dogs, cats, goats and wild birds, spending her time doing all she could to improve the Cavalier breed and becoming experienced in emailing her worldwide doggy contacts.  She bred a few dogs, spent time judging at various shows, and even had a walk-on part in the 2000 movie "Best in Show".

Around age 90 she moved into a house two doors from Sara, allowing her to remain independent but accepting the need for occasional assistance.  Then finally she moved in with Sara, spending most of her time in various dog forums on her computer.  When she finally became too much for Sara to handle alone, she moved into an assisted living facility where she spent the last year of her life.

[Editorial note: Revett and Geoff would like to express their undying gratitude to Sara for the patient, caring manner in which she looked after our Mum lo those many years, as she slowly slipped into old age.]