She kept on beaming

Sometimes, seemingly small incidents say something large about a person. I think that is true of a thing that happened during Phyllis George’s talent competition when she won the 1971 Miss America title.

In what now seems like a former life, I once was a daily newspaper reporter, starting at the Denton Record-Chronicle. A highlight of my three years there was covering Phyllis for the pageant week in Atlantic City.

She easily stood out among all those beauties; “sparkling,” “warm,” “real” are words that jump to mind. So are “plucky,” “brave,” with “grace under fire.” Why those? Well, during pageant finals on the big night ... while she was playing a bouncy, orchestrated piano rendition of “Raindrops Are Falling on My Head,” the hall’s sound system got cranky and then quit.

Nothing. Up on stage, she didn’t know if anyone in the audience could hear her or not. Didn’t know what to do. Many might have stopped. But she kept on beaming and kept on playing.

It never surprised me that Phyllis went on to be more than just a pretty former Miss America, to be winner in many areas. And now, it’s become public that for many years she dealt with serious health trials that few people knew about, fighting a blood disease that finally took her life.

So although it has been ages since the Miss America days, that’s how I’ll remember her: She kept on beaming. She kept on playing.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.

Pat Shutterly,

Henrico, Virginia

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