There are lots of perks to being a published author, but one of the nicest ones is meeting so many fascinating people. Today I was a guest at a coffee given by some of the board members of Georgia Women of Achievement. Next Thursday, I’ll have the privilege of speaking at the organization’s annual induction ceremony at Mercer College in Macon. My hostess’s mother founded this organization–and guess what? She just happens to be Georgia’s first and only Miss America–Neva Jane Langley Fickling–Miss America 1953. The photo above doesn’t do me any favors–but even in sunglasses (and a stunning Miss America-worthy full length fur) you can see that Neva Jane Fickling’s beauty hasn’t dimmed a bit over the years. She is charming, witty, and she plays the piano like a banshee. Just a little coaxing had her sitting at her daughter’s baby grand belting out “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” After chatting with Miss Neva I learned that we are both Florida natives–she grew up in Lakeland, with a father who was in the orange grove business, and while she was a music student at Mercer College in Macon, she was recruited to compete in the Miss Macon, Miss Georgia and of course, Miss America pageants. A classically trained pianist, she won the talent competition in the pageant, but gave up performing after marrying and having four children, only returning to playing in public again after she became a grandmother. Today Miss Neva is a community activist, performer and adored mother and grandmother. After googling her, I learned that among the prizes she received in 1953 were a custom-made wardrobe, nearly $100,000 in appearance fees–and a white Nash Ambassador with leather seats. Who wouldn’t love to tool around town in a full-length mink in a 1953 Nash? I learned that 1953 was the last year before the pageant began being televised. But as a little girl in the 1960s, my sisters and I never missed watching the Miss America pageant. We would have a sleep-over with our friends, and argue and pick our favorites. I can even remember one of the sponsors: Miss Tonette home permanents. Tragically, since I had tightly curled hair, I was never the recipient of Miss Tonette’s beauteous bounty. In later years, I became an enlightened cynic/skeptic who scorned the idea of beauty pageants. But now? I must bow down to the beauty, talent and charm of Neva Jane Fickling, our OWN Miss America 1953.