Cardboard crowns can make you feel special — even 40 years later

J. H. Osborne • Jul 26, 2019 at 1:18 PM

I nearly made a royal mess of things a couple of weeks ago. I originally wrote my column on the then-upcoming Miss Kingsport and Miss Sullivan County Pageant to point out I was green with envy because my friend Vicki Cooper Trammell was going to be a judge. But literally an hour before deadline, I remembered something I’d learned when I took the class to become certified to serve as a judge in the Miss America system: the identity of judges cannot be publicized before the pageant.

I hastily cut out all references to Vicki being a judge. So I’m going to tell you now.

Vicki has judged pageants in the past, but this was her first time doing so for the MIss Kingsport and Miss Sullivan County pageant — an official preliminary to Miss America. When I attended the seminar to become a certified judge, it was at Vicki’s urging. I haven’t been asked to judge a pageant. Then Vicki was asked to be one of six judges for Miss Kingsport and Miss Sullivan County. The others included Megan Tolly-Kilgore, Rebecca (Becky) Leita, Dakota Reynolds (Miss Kingsport 2012), Sullivan County Circuit Court Clerk Bobby Russell, and Hunter Shelton.

While becoming certified, Vicki pulled my leg about whether or not I’d be able to cast my vote appropriately if ever I were to judge the Miss Kingsport pageant. “You can’t write in Angellette,” she’d say, in reference to Miss Kingsport 1981 Angellette Lambert Richardson — whom I’ve declared will always be “my Miss Kingsport.” I was classs of ‘81 at DB, a year behind Vicki and Angellette. I wasn’t friends with either in high school. But you couldn’t miss either walking down the hall, each with long blond well-styled hair. What I didn’t know until years later was they had known each other, in friendly competition, on the pageant circuit for many years. By middle school Vicki had stopped such pursuits and was more likely to be found on the soccer field. Angellette had other interests as well, but she excelled at glamour. She still does.

Angellette and I are somehow distantly related. The main connection we can agree on is a link by our middle names. Mine is Henderson, after my paternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather Henderson Sage. Sage is Angellette’s middle name — and her mother’s maiden name. And on my mother’s side we are distantly linked through the Willis line. I sometimes jokingly introduce Angellette as my double-first cousin fourteen times removed. Vicki and I haven’t found any familial links, despite us both having roots in Lee County. We grew up one street apart in Borden Village, but didn’t become friends until Skoby’s brought us together. 

Get Vicki and Angellette together talking about their childhood pageant shenanigans and they can make you laugh until you cry ... or maybe something worse. It seems Vicki, already at a young age understanding “the show must go on,” forewent a needed restroom stop to make it onstage ... right next to Angellette — who suddenly realized her shoes and lower leg were a bit, well, damp. Yep. Vicki peed a little. But both kept smiling for the judges and audience as if nothing was wrong. “Why?” Angellette still will ask of Vicki. “Why did you have to stand so close to me. You were all up in my space.”

My theory is it was payback. Subconscious, maybe. You see, one of the first times they were competitors was in a “Festival Princess” pageant in Southwest Virginia — possibly the Lee County Tobacco Festival. It was November 1967. Angellette would have been little shy of six years old, Vicki about eight months younger. There’s a news clipping from that day with a photo of three little girls. One is being crowned and holding roses and smiling. A toddler to her right looks perplexed and is looking off stage. The girl being crowned Festival Princess is Angellette. To her left? Vicki. Staring straight into the camera. Not smiling. In fact, she looks pissed off. (And then look what happened to Angellette a few years later. Coincidence?) 

“Well, I came in third behind a TODDLER,” Vicki will blurt out when the topic comes up. And that’s a fact. First runner up was Sheri Estes, of Pennington Gap, sponsored by Lee Bank and Trust Company. Angellette’s sponsor was Jonesville Oil Company. Vicki was sponsored by Gibson Tire Service. Last week Angellette posted the newspaper clipping on Facebook, where Susan Golden Johnson came to Vicki’s defense: “No fair, Vicki had a toddler, an oil company and a bank stacked against her!”

Vicki did “best” Angellette somewhere between the “Pissed Off Princess” photo and the “Back up off of me” moment. Vicki was overall first runner up in the Little Miss Kingsport Pageant in 1970. Angellette was also a first runner up — in their age category. “It’s the only time I ever placed higher than Angellette,” Vicki told me a few days ago.

Today, they’re both married with well-educated, professionally-successful children. And they’re grandmas. They still laugh about their childhood pageant days and the “squirrels” they wore on their heads (hairpieces and “falls”). Vicki still wants that cardboard and glitter crown. And so does Angellette.  But she has let Vicki try it on.

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