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Gregory: Remembering Mary Ann

From her first days at Ole Miss, Mary Ann Mobley was vivacious, glamorous and very down-to-earth. She was the ultimate beauty queen with a gorgeous smile that was totally genuine.
Mary_Ann_Mobley,_Brandon._(Miss_Miss._'58,)_(Miss_America,_'58-'59,)_(Photo_at_WLBT).Mary Ann had won a lot of local beauty contests when I first met her at freshman orientation in 1955. I was a sophomore, and she was part of a small group that I was conducting around the campus. She was asking questions about the library, class sizes and the academic life of the university. May Ann had won a Carrier scholarship, a prestigious new honor on campus that meant she was much more than just another pretty face, but she was clearly a standout in that department as well.
In those days, Ole Miss was a very small school with some 3,000 students, and we were keenly aware of the state’s negative image. We took pride in the nationally ranked football team and the Rhodes scholars that the university produced. And when Mary Ann was named Miss America, we reveled in the added prestige it brought to the university.
Years later in Washington, D.C., I was invited to lunch by Ken Crosby, a casual acquaintance who had been a student at Ole Miss in the 1940s and was then head of the local American Express office. I had recently gotten married, and my wife Janice still remembers our arrival at Ken’s palatial home when Miss America shouted my name and came running across the room to give me a big hug. I had not seen her in years, but we talked about old times and mutual friends as if we were still students at a fraternity dance in Oxford.
I saw Mary Ann several times after that and she always mentioned Dr. Charles Noyes, who had taught us freshman English and conveyed to us an interest in the writings of William Faulkner. Mary Ann credited her knowledge of the literary giant as a factor in her winning the Miss America title. One of the judges in the contest that year was Bennett Cerf, head of Random House and Faulkner’s publisher.

Neal Gregory is an Ole Miss alum from Washington and can be reached at nealgregory@msn.com.

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