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Richmond Woman Wins for Elegance

Now the secret's out. Turner is "a very young 73-year-old," says Pinky O'Neil, state director of the Ms. Virginia Senior America Pageant 2002. "She could pass for 50," O'Neil adds.

Never before has Turner competed in a pageant. "Oh, this will give me something to do," she figured when she applied in March. "I don't like sittin' at home all day long." Since 1997, Turner has worked as a receptionist in the president's office at VSU. She spent 32 years as a secretary in Chesterfield Public Schools.

Nine Virginian women over 60 (the "age of elegance," O'Neil explains) competed for the title. The pageant went smoothly, Turner says. In her evening gown, long and black, with a thigh-high slit and matching gloves, she fulfilled a pageant requirement of "poise and presence." And Turner sang the spiritual "One Day at a Time" with grace.

The toughest challenge was summing up her life philosophy in 30 seconds. To make the task easier, before the contest pageant, officials handed out sheets of philosophical adages (one-liners, Turner calls them) to choose from. "I picked, 'Enjoy every minute,'" Turner says.

But Turner wanted to add a little more, to reflect what she's learned in 73 years. "Enjoy every minute," she answered, "by staying as active as possible and living life to the fullest each day, because tomorrow is not promised to us."

When the competition concluded, the announcer began calling the runners-up: fourth, third, second, and first. Turner was dismayed. "Then I said to myself, 'Oh, my God, I didn't even place.' I did. I said it to myself. But of course, you know, onstage I kept smiling."

When the announcer said "Richmond, Virginia. Ruby Turner," her mouth fell open. "Then the roses came, the banner came, the tiara came, and then, the trophy came." The announcer exclaimed "Walk!" Turner recalls. "And then I cried."

Pageant life isn't over for Turner. She advances to compete for the national title of Ms. Senior America 2002 in Biloxi, Miss., Nov. 10-16.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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