Sunday, March 11, 2012

The End of a Reign of Blessings

I have officially passed the title of Mrs. Tennessee International.  I am happy to say that I crowned Mrs. Traci Pangonas, a fellow American Heart Association volunteer, as Mrs. Tennessee International 2012 at the Tennessee International Pageant on March 4, 2012.  I know Traci will make the married women of Tennessee, including myself, very proud. 

I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon my reign and the blessings the title has bestowed upon me.  The best part of this whole amazing experience is the people, and there are so many who made such an impact upon me.  David was the best Mr. Tennessee in history.  He and I did this whole thing our way down to the smallest detail, and I have no one regret about the way we did it.  I wish I had the words to properly describe how truly amazing my friends Bobbie Marie Gregg, Miss Tennessee International 2011, and Randi Strong, Miss Teen Tennessee International 2011 are.  I guarantee you they will achieve so many more great things in this life, and I am thrilled and honored to have spent my year with them.  I could not be more proud of them and the hearts they have which have truly benefited so many people across the State of Tennessee.

Cari Baker is simply a hair and makeup dynamo.  She was my one woman beauty team, and I could not be more thrilled with the results.  But the magic she performed on my hair and face is nothing compared to the lasting impression she made upon my heart.  I love that lady SO much, and she will be my friend forever.  Every morning in Chicago she was the first face I saw, and she brought me nothing but peace and happiness at Mrs. International.  When I say I could not have achieved the success I enjoyed at Mrs. International without her, it is a major understatement.  She was indispensable for me, and I will be eternally grateful for the woman she is.

Suzy Bootz, Clay Spann, Joey Rutheford, Dion Welling, and Bryan Wood were all so vital to my success.  They are all so incredibly gifted in their crafts, but they are so much more gifted as human beings.  These people were my team.  They are a winning team, and I will forever be grateful to each of them for who they are and what they did for me. 

I have an incredible family and wonderful friends who I love so much and for whom I am so grateful. My mom, Judy, and I grew up watching pageants on television, and when I finished in the Top 5 at Mrs. International, I think I can speak for her when I say that it was a dream come true for both of us.  My dad is probably my biggest fan and the kindest person I know, and my sister is the strongest, funniest, most resilent, and best mother there ever was.  I am so proud of her and her exceptional son, Ashton, who is the most amazing child in this world.  Brandy, Tina, Melody, and Ivy are the best friends I could ask for; their support is a gift I will never forget.

I am so appreciative of Mary Richardson, the owner and director of the International Pageant System.  I have so much respect for this system and what it stands for.  I only hope that it will contine to move in the right direction and continue to make us all proud.  To my fellow 2011 queens, especially Renee (Arkansas), Donna (Southern States), Tiffany (California), Autumn (Oklahoma), Kristi (West Virginia), Sheila (New York), Sandra (Maryland), Mary (Rhode Island), Dani (New Jersey), Dawn (Pennslyvania), Melisa (Southeast), Lynn (Alabama), and Jenny (Ohio), all I can say is WOW.  All of you are simply inspiring.  I want to be just like all of you when I grow up!  As I sat in the theater on or final day of rehearsals and listened to each of you talk about the platforms you are each so passionate about, I was so humbled and inspired.  Each of you are my role models.  Thank you for all that you do and for who you are.   

I had a great time.  I have grown.  I have been blessed.  And, I can say that I did everything I wanted to do, and more, with this amazing title.  Thank you again to everyone who touched me along the way.  I am eternally grateful for this experience, and I am excited about what comes next.

Here is the text of my Farewell Speech and a few photos from mine and David's last days as Mr. and Mrs. Tennessee.  Enjoy!

I wanted to be Mrs. Tennessee for two reasons.  The first was that I genuinely wanted to amplify my voice in order to bring about positive change and raise awareness about the issues I am passionate about.  I am lucky because I know that I have and that I do.  The second reason is because I had never truly let go of the dream of being a beauty queen.  And, let me tell you, when that dream came true, it lived up to all my little girl expectations.  When I was chosen as the 3rd runner-up to Mrs. International last summer, I will say, with genuine conviction, that I was the happiest third runner-up in the history of pageantry.

But, the Mrs. Tennessee International adventure has been so much more than realizing a childhood dream.  This experience has opened my eyes to my own strength and opened doors I could have only dreamed to have walked through prior to winning this title.  I have found my intended path, and I have given myself permission to follow it and enjoy it.    

There are a lot of people who helped me along the way.  But, just one person actually made it possible.  My husband David is the reason I am Mrs. Tennessee.  Goodness knows he had no idea what he was getting into, but his willingness to stand behind this silly dream is a kindness I will never forget.  We did it our way, and I have not one regret about the way we did it. 

To David:  Thank you for honoring my dream.  Thank you for honoring me.  Thank you loving me and for never giving up on me.  I love you, I am proud of you, and I see in you a goodness that I am happy to know and that I believe in. 

Thank you also to my parents, Bernie and Judy, my sister, Gina, my nephew, Ashton, my dear friends, especially Brandy, Tina, and Melody, and my Jordan.  And, thank you to my pageant people:  my dear, sweet, kind Cari Baker; you have been instrumental in my journey and you will forever be my treasured friend, thank you also to the inspiring Suzy Bootz, the talented Clay Spann, the fashionable Joey Rutheford, and the motivational Dion Welling.  Thank you for helping a little small town girl realize her potential. 

To Team Tennessee 2011 Bobbie Marie and Randi, I am grateful to have spent my year with two extraordinary, but more importantly, incredibly real women.  I am your fans for life.

To Mrs. Tennessee International 2012, make yourself proud.  Use this title for good.  Don’t waste the opportunity, do it your way, and allow yourself to be inspired.

This has been fun.  This has been life altering.  God bless you, and go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

The End.

Mrs. Tennessee International 2011
Mary-Marsha Riley                  
David and I at the Contestants Banquet
Me and my girls, Randi and Bobbie Marie

We Three Queens

David and me during my Farewell Speech

Our last photo together as titleholders

Our last photo as Mr. and Mrs. Tennessee International  
God Bless you all!  I will continue this blog as Mary-Marsha; even though I am no longer, technically, a queen :)

Mary-Marsha Riley
Mrs. Tennessee International 2011