1965 Miss North Carolina cherishes Chair City memories

Miss Thomasville pageant Saturday
Feb. 07, 2014 @ 01:42 PM

"Sharon Finch's crown, hastily attached to a lovely coiffure, took a tumble and fell at her feet. The Miss North Carolina pageant judges, within the next moment, knew they had selected a winner fully capable of coping with the unexpected.

"Without hesitation, Sharon, clasping her gigantic bouquet, bent gracefully, returned the tiara to its perch and resumed her triumphant swing down the runway.

"It wasn't hard for either judges or spectators to see that the new queen's real forte was poise."

This account appeared in the July 19, 1964, edition of the High Point Enterprise after Sharon, a former Miss Thomasville, won the title of Miss North Carolina.

Sharon holds that same poise today with stunning beauty.

At the "age of eloquence," the Chapel Hill resident maintains a Southern charm that she learned from her mother, Helen Finch and during her reigns.

Her charm captured the awe of Tony Russell, a child when Sharon was crowned. Tony would later serve as executive director of the Miss Thomasville pageant for 20 years and then business manager. He is now employed with J.C. Green & Sons.

His tenure as a pageant director convinced him that the Miss America program teaches young ladies how to approach life, present themselves and represent their communities.

"I am a strong believer in the Miss America program," he said, "and Sharon is the perfect example."

She approached her pageant years just as fiery as she did her flamenco dance, which won her a talent title.

She entered the Miss Thomasville pageant while enrolled as a sophomore at Connecticut College.

Practice time with the fewest conflicts was between midnight and 2 a.m. — in the campus cafeteria.  

"When the witching hour tolled at Connecticut College, the girl who was destined to cast a spell on the Tar Heel state went to the cafeteria for practice," wrote HPE reporter John Baskin.

"I'd push back the curtains so I could see my reflection in the windows, push back all the tables and start," she told him. "Then early one morning the janitor walked in. I knew he had doubts about my sanity."

She was crowned Miss Thomasville on Nov. 22, 1963 —  the same day JFK was shot.

For the title of Miss North Carolina, she competed with 93 young women. After earning the crown, one of the memories she cherishes did not happen on the runway, but on the railway.

"An estimated 8,000 hometown folks lined the railroad tracks and stood out in the summer heat to welcome me home after I won Miss North Carolina in Raleigh in June 1964," she told the Times. "A special edition of the Thomasville Times was created and a commemorative coin was minted by local jeweler Jake Bruton with the Big Chair on one side and my likeness as Miss North Carolina on the other."

She stood in the Big Chair as her hometown saluted her.

During her year as Miss North Carolina, she made more than 450 personal appearances, sometimes riding in three holiday parades the same day. She traveled by car more than 77,000 miles.

"I made 150 of my 450 appearances with the governor and back in my day, next to the governor, Miss North Carolina was the public face and the state's official hostess."

When she competed in the Miss America pageant, Thomasville continued its rally behind her.

The Chamber of Commerce organized a 200-seat cheering section at the Atlantic City pageant.

The national competition propelled her into a 1965 Miss America Toni television commercial with Vonda Van Dyke and Bess Myerson. She co-wrote special musical material with composer Ray Taylor which she performed at personal appearances and on the 1965 statewide pageant telecast.

During her time as Miss North Carolina, she was inspired during the many hours in newsrooms and a lifelong love of writing to earn a degree in journalism in 1967 from the University of North Carolina.

Marketing and public relations professionals welcomed her into careers from New York City, Miami, Los Angeles to Charleston in positions ranging from the director of public relations of Revlon Inc. to a partner in a leading  global entertainment company.

Today, she calls Chapel Hill home, where she serves as president of Van Vechten Connections.

In 2012, she helped to create a six-month exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History and a 52-page photo commemorative book for the 75th anniversary of Miss North Carolina pageant. But the effort took a toll on her.

While she remains in colorectal cancer recovery, the two tasks were physically demanding and set back her recovery, but yet she kept that fiery determination.

She promoted Duke University Hospital's Cancer Center and its new boutique where she enjoyed a makeover.

It’s that drive, as well as beauty and charm, that captured Tony’s heart.

"She came to a Thomasville High School ballgame and she rode around the field in a convertible car," he says with nostalgia. In his youthful eyes, "All the sudden, she's Miss North Carolina. I was a young kid in awe.

"She is the epitome of a southern lady."


Miss Thomasville pageant Saturday

Eighteen young women will seek titles during the Miss Thomasville, Miss Central Carolina and Outstanding Teen pageants set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, in Finch Auditorium. Admission is $15 at the door.