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What it takes to be a 'steel magnolia'

Shirley Says

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POSTED: January 19, 2011 10:27 a.m.
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Karen Casey was miss Richmond Hill in 1968.

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While city girls were learning how to open doors with just a smile, girls in Dixie were learning the ways and wiles of “Southern charm” and “Southern hospitality.” At an early age, they learned to sprinkle their “magic dust” over others and reap the rewards.   
The South has romantic and mystical charm – and its own set of rules. Young girls and women living in the South know they are unwritten, passed down from one generation to the next by their mothers and grandmothers. They cut their teeth on “pretty is as pretty does.”
The character of a “steel magnolia” is the essence of strength combined with femininity. They have steel in their backbones and a dialect widely known and recognized. Their soft Southern drawl is loved by almost everyone who hears it – especially men.
Richmond Hill has its own Southern Belles. Pat Hurst, Jackie Phillips, Carolyn Davis and Karen Casey were students at Richmond Hill High School during the 1960s. Not only were these young ladies smart, friendly and competitive, they were beautiful.
“I never thought of myself as a ‘beauty queen,’” said 1969 Homecoming Queen Pat Hurst. “Physical beauty fades with time … your basic principles last a lifetime, and how you treat others lasts forever. I was raised to respect those with opinions different from mine.”
Growing up in the Bottom and playing in her parents’ (Bill and Julia Hurst) backyard with her brother and his friends honed Pat’s competitive nature. She was captain of the basketball team her senior year and voted Senior Superlative-Most Athletic by her classmates.
Pat, a successful career woman with 35 years of federal service, is still working. The past 21 years she has been employed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Savannah Laboratory.
“I think being from the South and raised in its culture enabled me to be a fairly good negotiator and listener,” she said. “When ‘push comes to shove,’ I have a tendency to stand my ground.”
When Pat relinquished her crown to Peggy Groves, Dan Collins from Hinesville escorted her. The Homecoming Court was held in the old gym where the Richmond Hill Elementary School is today.
Pat married her high school sweetheart. She and Dan have been married 40 years and are expecting their third grandchild in April.
Classmates chose Carolyn Davis as Miss Richmond Hill 1969.
“All through school I treated my classmates the way I wanted to be treated,” Carolyn said. “Though you get closer to some more than others, I tried to befriend all of them.”
In high school, Carolyn’s competitive personality served her well. She was a member of the Beta Club, Letterman’s Club and student council and was voted Senior Superlative-Best All Around. 
“I feel any person, beauty queen or otherwise, has the ability to be a steel magnolia,” she said. “It’s part of a person’s inner self – the natural urge to survive.”
Born and raised in Richmond Hill, Carolyn said her family inspired her. 
“My parents, Kermit and Florence Davis, knew what hard work was all about,” she said. “Their work ethic was passed down to my sisters and me.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Carolyn is an outstanding cook. Expecting dinner guests unfamiliar with, yet desiring, a home cooked Southern meal is no problem for her.
“I would serve Southern fried chicken, rice, fresh cooked tomatoes, butterbeans, corn on the cob and homemade biscuits,” she said.
Carolyn and her husband of 27 years, Phil Page, are retired and living in Effingham County. They’re enjoying their golden years riding their Harley, fishing in the pond on their country grounds and growing beautiful flower and vegetable gardens.
Daughter of Jack and Evelyn Phillips, Jackie was the 1967 Homecoming Queen. She was also born and raised in Richmond Hill.
“I didn’t do anything special – it was the luck of the draw. Most probably my animation,” Jackie said. “I’ve always been outgoing and accepting of others. I try to find the good in everything and everybody.”
She said her high school years were memorable.
“It was innocent, we were kids. We grew up thinking we were all pretty much the same, though we looked and acted differently,” she recalled.
She was captain of the cheerleading squad, was voted Senior Superlative-Best Looking and was a member of the Future Business Leaders of American Club.
“I was a free spirit – I am a free spirit,” she said, flashing a big smile.
I can still see her riding her large white horse, Tarzan. With her beautiful long blonde hair pulled loosely into a ponytail, she would ride off to see her friends in the Bottom.
Jackie is a woman of many talents. As easily as she could saddle-up Tarzan and ride off by herself, she could put on her “fru fru” ballerina outfit complete with satin toe shoes and pirouette with the grace of a swan.
“I taught school after graduating from college,” she explained. “However, I’ve been landscaping for years and have no problem being seen in public with boots and dirty knees.
“On the other hand, I can get dressed with the best. As my friends say, ‘You sure do clean up good.’”
Incidentally, the fathers of Carolyn and Jackie worked for Henry Ford.
Karen Casey, Miss Richmond Hill 1968, is the epitome of a Southern belle.
“I felt there were many others who deserved this more than I,” she said of being named Miss Richmond Hill. “To receive that honor was very humbling to me.”
Parents Bud and Ann Casey raised Karen with a strong sense of God, family and community. Her father, she said, was her inspiration.
“He was the most honest, hard working person I have ever known.”
In high school, Karen was a member of the FHA, Letterman’s, FTA and science clubs. And she has a unique competitive side.
“I am much more competitive with myself than with others,” she said.
And having been a business woman all her life, she speaks with authority.
“To run a successful business, you must be a perfectionist and tenacious enough not to settle for anything less than excellence,” Karen said. “That’s where grit comes into play. You must do what you know is right because it’s your success or failure in the end.”
According to these ladies, one can forget the image of a Southern belle being a demure woman wearing gloves and pearls and carrying a frilly parasol. A Southern belle is all about manners, graciousness, resourcefulness and beauty that shines from within.

Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. She can be reached at shirleyhiers@comcast.net.

 

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