By Dee Ford Byas
From dancing down one of the first Soul Train lines on TV to being the reigning Ms. SeniorArizona, Patricia Person knows about living life to its fullest and being a trail blazer.Person, 64, was crowned Ms. Senior Arizona on Aug. 21, and she is the first Black winner in the pageant’s more than 30-year-history, according to the Ms. Senior Arizona director, Herme Sherry, who had the lofty title in 2004. Sherry spoke of the importance of diversity while noting continued efforts to have at least one Black judge for the competition of candidates ranked in categories such as philosophy of life, evening gown, talent, and an interview with the judges.
Besides having Black representation among the select judges, she said a few Black contestants have competed in the pageant throughout the years.
“We do try hard on that. I don’t think we’ve gone years without having at least one,” said Sherry, adding judges do not meet contestants until judging time.
Person recently received her prize banner with all the names of past winners, Sherry said on Monday, Nov. 1, of one of the rewards given to Ms. Senior Arizona along with customized jewelry, a winner’s trophy, and a dozen red roses as perks for being crowned. Hosted by a nonprofit organization, the Cameo Foundation, the annual pageant was finally held in Surprise after forgoing the crowning of 2020 and 2021 winners due to pandemic constraints.
Although the event was postponed five times, she was pleased that a new Ms. Senior Arizona was coronated despite receiving “a really nasty phone call,” that Sunday night after the pageant. Sherry said she deleted a message that included “bad language and all kinds of stuff,” while crying in disbelief that someone would harbor such hate in their heart about a Black person being named the winner.
Not letting anything including hate deter her is one of the reasons why
Person chose to perform a dramatization of Bessie Coleman for the pageant’s talent competition. The Ms. Senior Arizona was crowned because of exhibiting beauty inside and outside as an ambassador on the senior women’s platform, which is noted to showcase inner beauty, charm, motivation, achievements, talents and more.
The California native gave a speech on the pilot’s life as the first African American and the first Native American female pilot whose short lifetime included overcoming barriers that prohibited her from flying planes in the U.S. because of discrimination; picking cotton, washing laundry for extra
money before going to France where she learned to fly and got her international pilot’s license.
The pilot gained notoriety for her “loop-the-loops,” making the figure “8” in an airplane, touring, giving speeches, teaching flight lessons, and show- ing films of her air tricks to unsegregated audiences, according to published reports, citing she performed the first public flight by an African American woman in 1922 and encouraged women to learn how to fly.
Likewise, Person wanted the audience to know about the pilot’s life that ended at 34 as she shared her own life’s philosophy: “Live until you die.”
“Live life until you die, which means live life fully, even if you’re a senior. Everyone needs to follow their dreams and desires until they are no longer on earth. It makes for a much more ful- filling life,” said Person in response to the Arizona Informant’s questions.
She even encouraged youths to set high goals but stay flexible.
“Your dreams and goals may change. Listen to advice from people that love you. Trust and listen and con- sider their advice. Nine times out [of] 10, it’s good advice,” Person added.
From being robbed in Los Angles to being proclaimed a winner in a past beauty pageant only to have the title taken from her at that moment her life includes highs and lows before setting the goal of becoming Ms. Senior Arizona after learning about the contest from browsing an article online.
Contestants sought required ladies to be at least 60 years old, an Arizona resident for about three months, and a U.S. citizen at the time of the contest.
“I looked into it a bit and was impressed by the previous winners. I thought this was something that I would enjoy doing, so I signed up on a whim,” said Person. “All of the other contestants are very nice and so talented. I felt like I was competing with them, not against them.”
Competing in her last pageant about 40 years ago, Person’s first
beauty pageant bout was at 22 years old. In addition to winning prizes, trophies, and ribbons her most prized award is having a life full of memories including being on the first episode of Soul Train in 1971 and on other episodes in 1972.
“I loved being a Soul Train Dancer! I was star struck. I had the opportunity to meet Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, the Spinners, and a host of others. That was my first introduction to being on stage, that’s when I knew it was something I enjoyed,” said Person, recalling how a friend was originally to appear on the show but broke her toes and asked her to go as a replacement.
The University of Phoenix graduate, who enjoys dancing, exercising with her husband, entertaining, traveling, spending time with family including the dogs, said she is even proud to have started a successful business venture, L.A Hot Dog Catering Service in 1996. Ten years prior, she relocated to Mesa with the Boeing Company and retired as a logistic technical coordinator after 38 years with the organization.
Working at an assisted living site on weekends, Person said she is ready to “do whatever is required as I reign,” while preparing for the national competition and other engagements scheduled during the year. She looks forward to reuniting with a couple pageant contestants she is friends with and plans to meet for lunch.
Her schedule is filling fast with duties as she has already participated in a fashion show at an assisted living facility, appeared at the Million Dollar Mingle event, met people at the recent Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, and will be at a Veterans’ Day Parade on Nov. 11. She even graced the front of an Arizona senior publication the same month as Gladys Knight was on the cover, Person said, adding her excitement of representing the Cameo Foundation and any of its community projects and fundraising efforts.
Learn about Ms. Senior Arizona at msseniorarizona.com; and the Cameo Foundation at cameofoundation.org.