Hattiesburg residents Charlotte “Chalie” Carroll Ray and Glenda Meadows Grubbs are just two members of the Miss Mississippi Sisterhood whose lives were shaped by the title.

A Miss Mississippi reigns for just one year, but the title, like a magic key, continues to unlock doors for the rest of her life. As part of the Miss America organization, this prestigious beauty pageant turned scholarship program has awarded millions of dollars since 1921 to girls who are pretty but whose talents and smarts set them apart. Rules govern how the big money can be used. Winners and runners-up receive $3,000 to $50,000 to further their career ambitions.

Hattiesburg residents Charlotte Carroll Ray (“Chalie”) and Glenda Meadows Grubbs are just two members of the Miss Mississippi Sisterhood. Oh, the miles they have traveled and the ups and downs, joys and sorrows they have lived since that coveted crown was placed on their pretty young heads ten years apart. It was fun to hear the 1962 and 1972 winners’ perspectives on where life has taken them and how much the Miss Mississippi title shaped these intervening decades.

I would love to have been a “fly on the wall” back when they were cutting ribbons, shaking hands, and sharing the dais before every convention and community function in Mississippi! I imagine they were two of the very best ambassadors Mississippi ever had.

Chalie was just 18-years-old when she won her local pageant as “Miss Eupora.” Chalie was actually from Walthall, a village a few miles outside Eupora. The population in 1960 was 153.

Before Chalie went to the state pageant on that sultry July day in 1962, her mother hugged her and said, “We know you won’t win, but have a real good time.”

She arrived in Vicksburg feeling no pressure. Her talent was a slapstick comedy routine that she says would never be acceptable today. She dressed as Olive Oyl, played Popeye’s heartthrob, and brought the house down with her antics. She had fun just like her mother advised. Chalie surprised even herself when she was awarded first place in the talent category on the first night of competition.

When she won the swimsuit competition on Friday night, Chalie still did not entertain the thought of winning. This pageant thing had been fun, but her boyfriend had come down to Vicksburg for the weekend and hitched his ski boat behind his truck. He and Chalie were going to meet some friends Sunday afternoon after the pageant ended on Saturday night. There was a great place to water ski close by.

The final night of competition ended with Charlotte Ann Carroll, Miss Eupora, capturing the coveted title. All of Webster County turned out to welcome their Miss Mississippi home the next day.

A caravan of locals met her eight miles out of Eupora, put her in the back of a convertible, and formed a parade through Eupora, through the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, and five miles north to Walthall where all 153 residents turned out to cheer their hometown girl.

Her boyfriend, now husband, Bill Ray, who had burned much gasoline pulling his ski boat to Vicksburg for the ski trip that was not to be, waited patiently through Chalie’s Miss Mississippi reign. Their 60- year marriage has made up for that lost ski trip a million times over.

Their adventures include motorcycle treks, countless water and snow skiing trips, mission trips, two amazing grown daughters, and seven grandchildren. They revel in a big-connected family, and they live large every day.

Chalie’s Christian faith is at the core of everything she does. For at least ten years, the Rays were deeply involved in mission trips to Honduras as part of Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International. Chalie now serves on that board and was the children’s coordinator for several years. She says she became fluent at singing in Spanish but insists she can’t speak it!

She still teaches a weekly community bible study, nurtures her grandchildren, enjoys time with her sweet Bill, and occasionally helps an aspiring Miss Mississippi contestant prepare for the pageant. She has returned to the pageant once or twice to entertain “when they ask me.” Her life is rich, and her plate is full. She laughs a lot, loves big, and can still turn heads with her pretty face and fit physique.

Glenda Meadows, “Miss Richton,” had just graduated from USM when she became Miss Mississippi in July 1972. A people person, she loved every minute of being Miss Mississippi. The pageant was not stressful, even though it was her second time competing. She, like Chalie, felt that her entire town was in this adventure with her and that the crown belonged as much to them as to her.

A music education major, Glenda loved to sing, and the talent portion of the competition was her favorite. Those swimsuit lineups were her least favorite, no longer a part today. Knees and ankles together, lined up like cattle on display making quarter turns on command, made her incredibly uncomfortable. She was glad when that practice ended.

Immediately after her crowning in Vicksburg, she headed home to Richton to prepare for the Miss America pageant. Exhausted after the grueling week of competition, she was startled to be greeted on the outskirts of town by a group of excited fans who put her on the back of a convertible and escorted her to the First Baptist Church for a huge community reception.

In short order, these same townspeople erected four giant billboards on the entrances to the city, declaring that Richton was the home of Miss Mississippi. Richton sent 65 fans to Atlantic City that September to cheer for their Miss Mississippi. In a town of 1100, 65 was a huge number!

If she were advising a pageant wannabe today, Glenda would say, “Be yourself. If you dislike being in front of people and talking, this Miss Mississippi competition is not for you.” She sees girls with pat answers, likely coached on what to say and what not to say. In her opinion, it is always wise to be true to yourself. Those pat answers and rehearsed opinions will grow stale and complicated as the year progresses. Glenda has coached more than a few in their prep for Miss Mississippi. Her best advice always goes back to saying, “Be yourself.”

Glenda used her scholarship winnings for more schooling, earning a master’s degree in music education. She married USM football star turned actor and screenwriter Gary Grubbs in 1973. The two sold everything and moved to Los Angeles with big dreams in 1977.  

Within a decade or two, reality TV began to change the industry, replacing serial shows and made-for-TV movies. Gary and Glenda decided to return to the place they loved in 2002, and Hattiesburg was thrilled to welcome them. Don’t call them retired, because they aren’t.

Gary immediately found work in film—his credits number about 200 or more in the 1980’s and 1990’s. You would recognize them all. Glenda did a little TV, but her primary role in those years was being a Mom to daughter Molly and son Logan. She also found a calling as an elementary school music teacher.

Glenda took up painting, something she had never had time to do. Her impressionistic style and colorful canvases have created a great demand for her work. You can find her paintings at Jackson Street Gallery in Ridgeland, Oddfellows Gallery in Hattiesburg, and Bloom’s West in Oak Grove.

She and Gary are active in their church, Temple Baptist, and they enjoy frequent trips to Austin, Texas, to see their grandchildren, two-year-old C.J. and four-year-old Ripley.

Glenda was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, 2024. Her prognosis is good, and she is facing eight chemo treatments like the champ she is. The glass is always half full, and she looks forward to having lots of time to paint while she is homebound.

Follow Glenda on Instagram at glendagrubbs.

— Article credit to Marilyn Tinnin for the Magnolia Tribune —

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