Anne Rogers Clark, who worked at her mother's canine grooming shop as a teenager and became one of the most revered figures in the dog show world, died Wednesday. She was 77.
Clark died in Wilmington, Del. She had been ill with cancer.
Clark was nearly 6 feet tall, and her stature as an owner, handler, breeder and judge was equally imposing. She attended every Westminster Kennel Club show since 1941 and three times handled the best-in-show winner at America's top event. The Westminster show announced Clark's death.
"She was unique to our world, truly one of a kind," Westminster show Chairman Thomas Bradley said. "It is difficult to imagine another individual ever again dominating our sport as she did for so many years."
Clark judged 22 times at Westminster, and was scheduled to review the terrier group at Madison Square Garden in New York in February. Nearly every prominent person who took a dog into one of her rings left with a story.
David Frei, longtime host of USA Network's telecast of Westminster, recalled the first time he showed a dog for Clark. It was about 20 years ago in Texas, with an Afghan hound.
"The first thing she said to me was, 'Step back from that dog! You're overwhelming her!' " Frei recalled Wednesday.
"I was a nervous wreck and was sure that I'd blown it. Annie wound up giving her the win."
A descendant of New York Mayor Philip Hone (1826-27), Clark decided early on to pursue a career in purebred dogs. After high school in Flushing, N.Y., she went to work at her mother's grooming shop in Manhattan.
Clark became the first woman professional handler to win best in show at Westminster, in 1956, handling a toy poodle champion named Wilbur White Swan.
Clark also handled the winners in 1959 (Fontclair Festoon, a miniature poodle) and 1961 (Cappoquin Little Sister, a toy poodle).
She later was the only person to judge best in show and all seven groups at Westminster. She bred English cocker spaniels and with her late husband, James, bred miniature and standard poodles, Norfolk terriers and whippets. In 2002, a miniature poodle named Surrey Spice Girl that she co-bred won best in show at Westminster.
Clark, who leaves no surviving family, frequently wrote about dogs. Her latest book "Annie on Dogs!" was a compilation of her monthly columns written for Dogs In Review magazine.
In a 2003 interview with USA Today, Clark commented on her fame within the dog world: "A couple weeks ago, I was flying home from Portland, Ore., after judging a four-day show," she said. "The flight attendant pointed and gasped, 'Westminster!' Like it was my middle name."