The month of June for the past 29 years of my life has always been an exciting time in the Shaw house. No, I am not referring to my birthday or summer vacation…I am referring to the Miss North Carolina Pageant. I have been told that even the year I was born I went to the pageant! Well, not really but I was at the host hotel in the room at barely 20 days old with my Nanny while my parents went to the show.
For those of you that don’t know, my mother has been designing and helping pageant girls for many, many years and since this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Miss NC pageant I wanted to reflect on the many wonderful memories that I have related to this special program.
My mother started her business in our home…our so called “dining room” was converted into her own little shop and I can’t even begin to count the number of girls that came to 1601 Greenwood Street for their fittings or consultations. I remember always wanting to be right in the middle of things and I didn’t always understand that it was mom’s “office”. To me it just seemed like a glorified dress up party…any little girl's dream come true! Most all of the contestants and their business managers, family members, and friends would entertain me while mom tried to get her work done. They would let me try on their crowns, play in their old costumes, and treat me like I was a little sister of their own.
Lori Boggs, Miss NC 1987, was the first queen that I really remember. She spent quite a bit of time with us during her reign. She even made an appearance at the grand opening of my grandfather’s dealership that year! I remember sitting on the card table while she signed autographs…probably trying to make sure that all the little kids knew she was “my friend”.
The year after she gave up her title, she got married and asked me to be her flower girl. I thought I was the bee’s knees in that peach shiny dress. Check it out! It was such a special year and she is a MNC that will always have a place in my heart.
In 1988 they crowned Lee Beaman. I will never forget her red pointe shoes and the fact that she actually gave me a pair to keep! I would put those shoes on and pretend like I knew how to lace them up and dance in the living room. Needless to say, I never got on pointe! I think I also watched the year that she gave up her crown on VHS so many times because I still know every word to every song from the production… “Living in America…got to have a celebration!”
The next year that I really remember was 1990. I wasn’t old enough to go to the pageant so I would always spend the week with my Aunt Donna at the lake and we would watch it together on tv. She would always make a deal with me that if one of “mom’s girls” won…we would jump in the lake after the pageant! Well, we jumped in the lake that year for sure! I can still see Scarlet’s beautiful face wearing the blue and black velvet gown…her voice was just as pretty as she was.
In 1992 I was finally old enough to go to the pageant…but only with a babysitter. Jennifer Huggins tagged along with us for the week and we had such a fun time! We would go to the mall, eat at fun restaurants, and just had a ball! I can remember staying at the Sheraton downtown and we had to sleep in the pullout sofa in the suite. On Saturday night she even curled my hair with hot rollers and did my makeup. Well, just blush and mascara but I thought I was so cool. This year they crowned Heidi Sue Williams. She was another one of mom’s girls and I remember coming home from school one day and getting to hang out with her at mom’s downtown shop. I always loved the fact that her year rhymed with her name. Heidi Sue in 92 J Here’s a lovely picture of me with Heidi before my parents introduced me to contacts and braces!
In 1993 I guess mom realized that taking me to the pageant with a babysitter wasn’t as easy as she thought. So I had to stay at home this year…but only under one condition…I could get a golf cart to drive around in the neighborhood! So that was our deal. I got a golf cart and she got a full week in Raleigh with her pageant friends. This year they crowned Mary Susan Runion…yep, another night of jumping in the lake with Aunt Donna! She was Miss Spivey’s Corner and mom did her wardrobe. I remember hearing a story about someone spilling red wine on Mary Susan’s dress at the reception and Mom and Mrs. Nancy Heath had to rescue the white chiffon fabric…it had to be worn again at Miss America and what a story they now had to tell! Mary Susan came to my school that year to speak to the 5th grade and I remember being so proud to tell all of my friends that I knew her! I probably even wore her photo button to school that day. Such a little dork J
A few years went by and I was finally old enough to spend pageant week with mom and the “dream team” in Raleigh! I loved checking into the Sheraton and unpacking in our suite. I think in 1994 I made my performance debut in our hotel room after the pageant was over. I would impersonate the top ten finalists and my godfather Ray Kennedy would help me with props. When I got to Dana Stephenson in the line-up we used the round dining table and took down the shower curtain to look like her big talent dress! Love you Dana J I also remember finding a black slip in mom’s suitcase and using that as my costume for someone’s lyrical routine….it might have been to “When A Man Love’s A Woman”. Not positive. Yes, those were the good ol’ days!
In 1996 I remember helping mom pack up the car at the end of pageant week. I was always so sad but I will never forget sitting downstairs at the circle parking area of the Sheraton and seeing the newly crowned Miss NC, Jenny Roberts, getting in her car with her family. I remember thinking how sweet and excited she was. She had the cutest parents and a proud sister….that was a picture in time that I will always remember and to this day I have always adored her family. They are precious people and she was a wonderful Miss NC.
1997 brings back wonderful memories of another winner, Michelle Warren. She spent lots of time at our house in Elizabethtown with Becky Ferrell and Helen Holliday. Helen and Ray also helped Michelle with her talent and I will never forget going to Fayetteville so she could practice singing on the stage at Cape Fear Regional Theatre. I could listen to her sing all day long. What an awesome voice! I also have a memory of riding to Fayetteville with she and mom for her to have her Miss NC portrait made at Gordon Kinlaw’s new studio. I could hardly contain my excitement to be riding in the same car as the new Miss NC. That was fun! She went on to win talent at Miss America and was also named 1st runner up. I was so proud!
One year later…mom helped another Miss NC winner and this was a very special year for her. Kelli Bradshaw was Miss NC 1998 and mom had been working with her since her first pageant- Miss Midway High School. Kelli was also Teen Miss North Carolina and mom designed all of her clothes for that too. Needless to say, this was someone that she had become very close with and watched her grow through the years. I will never forget mom telling Kelli “You can’t just rub water over your hair and expect it to look good…you need to use hairspray”. Kelli grew up on a farm in Spivey’s Corner and grew cantaloupes…or “mush melons” as she and her mom would call them. She wasn’t your average pageant girl by any means but the minute she hit the stage…you knew she was something special. She went on to become 1st runner up at Miss America and also won a preliminary swimsuit award. Another exciting year in pageantry for Jamye Shaw!
As you can see, there have been many wonderful winners to not only grace the floor in my family living room…but also the stage of Miss NC and Miss America! Lorna McNeil in 2000, Ashley House in 2001, and Dana Reason in 2003. All three of these girls were role models for me because their crowning moments took place during my high school and college years and they encouraged me to one day compete in the Miss NC pageant. They might not realize it…but I really looked up to them! Lorna and I performed in the production of “Godspell” together in Fayetteville. Dana and I shared a tiny room together on a cruise ship one summer in West Palm Beach. Many stories that I don’t have the time to get into…but let’s just say they are special moments of my life that I will always cherish.
In 2005 I decided that after watching from behind the scenes for over 20 years…I wanted to give it a shot myself. I won the Miss Central Carolina preliminary and Lane Ragsdale was my Executive Director. If you know Lane…you know we laughed pretty much from start to finish! At Miss NC I was 3rd runner up and had the time of my life. Maybe it was because I grew up sitting in the audience…but something about that week was truly magical. I still think of Mrs. Kay Dickinson every time I see a copy of the “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein because she read it to the contestants on our first day together. I don’t think the girls could function during pageant week without her sweet spirit and kind words of encouragement.
Reflecting back on all of these memories…from early childhood until today… makes me realize why this program holds such a special place in my heart. It is how my parents met…it has provided a business for my mom and a way for her to make a living…it has brought special friends into my life that I will always keep in touch with…and most importantly, it has helped to mold and shape the young lady that I am today!
So as we celebrate this 75th year with a gala and exhibit opening tomorrow night at the NC Museum of History, I encourage you to reflect back on your memories of the Miss NC Pageant. I have spent the past 6 months connecting with former Miss North Carolina’s to collect memorabilia for the exhibit along with my co-collector, Jonathan O’Geary. I can’t wait for everyone to see it…the rich history of this program will blow you away! A big thank you to Jennifer Vaden Barth (Miss NC 1991) for leading the charge on this amazing celebratory weekend. I cannot even begin to count the hours that she has put in to making this idea come to life. It seems like just yesterday we were chatting in the restaurant at the Marriott about ways to celebrate the 75th year. So glad it’s finally here!
Cheers to everyone involved and Happy Anniversary to the Miss North Carolina Pageant! 75 years looks pretty good on you.