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Against the Tide: Heather-Jo Purcell

I had entered the New York City pageant in 1953 without telling my folks. If I didn’t win, well, I tried. But if I did, they would be thrilled. I borrowed mom’s car that evening. They were going to the theater, so I just drove in to New York City for the competition. I was very late returning home after being crowned, shuffling to a TV studio for the new interview, and driving home. Mom and Dad were very upset with me. I had missed my curfew big-time, until I took off my raincoat over my gown and pageant Miss New York banner. Needless to say, there were screams, tears, and lots of hugs. Mom was her usual practical self with a comment I will never forget: “Now we have to go shopping.”

I met with Sly Stallone at a Philadelphia hotel. He was seated at the end of the large conference room, and as I approached him, I had two immediate thoughts: One, he’s a gentleman. Two, he’s not nearly as tall as I expected. As it turned out, I nailed the audition and the rest is history.

When I became a widow in 1991, I decided to move to Connecticut to be closer to my youngest daughter. She lives in East Lyme and was expecting her third baby. How perfect it is to live in a seashore community with New York City and Boston a mere stone’s throw away. I love being close to the water, the charm of a cozy town with its main street, its lovely shops, the friendly neighbors, and the beach. Niantic is a jewel on the shoreline I can call home.

Being a former “beauty queen,” for a mother, had its own obstacles. I always try to set a good example for my girls and wanted them to know that beauty is God-given, but if you are selfish and unkind, the outer beauty is a shell to an ugly person. I have been blessed with two lovely women with beauty that shines from within. I am so proud of my babies.

Young girls today are so very different. Interaction between young people today is being choked by electronics. But I think modern communications today is awesome but—and this is a big but—where is the personal interaction with one another? Where is the friendship, with a one-on-one, looking at your partner and talking and seeing each other, holding a hand, just breathing the same airspace?

You reach 80 years old and you try not to fall into a trap of too much makeup, dramatic hairstyle, clothes that are too young for you. We’ve earned all wrinkles and lines. Be proud of them. That’s the secret to the fountain of youth. When a lady smiles, no one sees anything but the happy smile. It’s magic and has worked for women forever.

You might say I was an only child with Nana as my second mother. She was the original Mary Poppins. Nana taught me some sage advice, which I have carried with me my entire life. Number one: “You can’t take back the spoken word.” Number two: “A liar has to have a very good memory.” Live by these rules and you can’t go wrong.

Who I am today is because of her.

I had a great ride, met extraordinary people, fell in love with fine husbands, raised four exceptional children, have wonderful stepchildren, and delightful grandchildren. I met my “Prince Charming” late in life and I’m looking forward to many more happy years ahead.

Image Credits: Photo by Moya McAllister

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