Miss America, My Feminist Friend and Mentor

Bess_Myerson_1957Bess Myerson, crowned Miss America in 1945, was the first and only Jewish Miss America. And she became my heroine and close friend despite our 20-year age difference.

I knew her when she was no longer in the limelight. Because both of us were cancer survivors and advocates, a mutual friend introduced us, in the mid-90s. While Bess never went into detail about her fall from stardom, she understood her celebrity, and once said, “I am more infamous these days than I am famous, but, if I can bring attention to the causes I care about, then, that’s OK.”

She did just that as a philanthropist, fundraiser and volunteer. My causes became hers, and I will be forever grateful.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, I became active with SHARE, a self-help group for women with breast cancer in NYC, as a facilitator, advocate and board member. This work required compassion, an indomitable spirit and a financial commitment. I had the empathy, along with a wobbly sense of self. But despite the fact that I was a fundraiser who respected the impact a gift of money could have, I usually stopped short of being a donor, thinking that being a volunteer was good enough.

2 comments on “Miss America, My Feminist Friend and Mentor

  1. Amy Stone on

    What an interesting and touching tribute to Queen Bess. Fascinating to know more about her life when she dropped off the radar as either famous or infamous. Do you know she amassed a fortune of $16 million in the 1980s? Was she able to grow that fortune? Inspirational to read how she used her money philanthropically.

  2. Sabeeha Rehman on

    What a fine tribute to a beautiful woman. What a privilege for you to have known her and having had her support in these worthwhile causes. It is nice to hear a personal anecdote; it puts the reader closer to the person, vs. the celebrity. I like the humor of the “e” in Myerson. If you recall the story she told about Golda Meir, would love to hear it. Thanks for the beautiful write-up on her.

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