posted December 10, 2014 10:53 AM
About the same time Mary Ann Mobley was crowned the 1959 Miss America, she was becoming known on the University of Mississippi campus as "queen of the mustard seed necklace."
"Every girl at Ole Miss had to have one," said Kay Alford, Mobley's little sister in her sorority. "It was round and clear, about the size of a large marble, and had a tiny mustard seed in it. I think it said a lot about who Mary Ann really was. She was a Christian and didn't mind letting the world know. She used the 'mustard seed' Bible verse at various times when talking to the press. That's how it came about."
Alford was referring to Luke 17:6: "And the Lord said, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you."
Mobley, known as much for her sweet spirit and willingness to help others as she was for her beauty and grace, died Tuesday at age 75. She had battled breast cancer for several years.
"The last time I saw Mary Ann was at a function at the (Ole Miss) chancellor's house about six or eight years ago," Alford said. "She was fighting cancer then, but she looked darling, was in good spirits and made time for everyone."
Alford's husband, Warner, was a starter on the 1959 Ole Miss national championship football team. He and Kay often double dated with Mobley and former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat.
"The football team loved it when she was named Miss America because all the players knew her," he said. "Back then, Ole Miss only had about 4,000 students so everybody knew everybody."
When Lynda Lee Mead — another Ole Miss student — won Miss America the following year, "Sports Illustrated" magazine published an article "Babes, Brutes and Ole Miss." It focused on the Rebels' gridiron accomplishments and the back-to-back Miss Americas.
An excerpt read: "The young men at Ole Miss are astonishingly broad-shouldered and happily carefree. They are friendly and courteous, but there is a slight swagger about them. ... The young women at Ole Miss are softly pretty, ... and it is no wonder at all that in rapid succession two of them have been chosen Miss America. The wonder is that girls from other regions even have a chance."
Said Sparky Reardon, former dean of students at Ole Miss: "Here we were, this little spot on the map that nobody paid much attention to. And all at once, we had had a convergence of Miss Americas, great football teams and TV. People across the country started wondering, 'What's going on down there?' Mary Ann started all that. She did so much to make Mississippi known."
Amory native Sam Haskell, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Miss America Organization, was friends with Mobley for 40 years.
"When I was a little boy growing up in Mississippi, there were two Mississippi stars who I idolized. ... One was Elvis Presley and the other was Mississippi's first Miss America Mary Ann Mobley," Haskell said in a statement. "She was at the hospital when my children were born. She performed in many of my charitable concerts to raise money in Mississippi for needed educational funds as well as Hurricane Katrina victims. We shared a love for our alma mater Ole Miss, and we shared many mutual friends. ... She challenged me, she loved me, and she made me laugh. I shall miss her."
Mobley was born in Biloxi and spent many of her formative years in Brandon. She became an actress, and her credits included a role in the 1965 Elvis Presley movie, "Girl Happy." It earned her a Golden Globe as New Star of the Year. She appeared in TV series such as "Love, American Style," "Fantasy Island" and "Diff'rent Strokes."
Mobley's extensive charity work earned her the Outstanding Woman of the Year award in 1966, presented to her by first lady Lady Bird Johnson.
Mobley and her late husband, Gary Collins, had one daughter, Clancy Collins-White