Third times the charm for Miss Mississippi

By LaReeca Rucker

When Sarah Beth James was 9, she underwent an appendectomy that left a scar.

"The doctor said it would be noticeable, but as long as I didn't do any pageants, I would be fine," James said Sunday inside Miss Mississippi pageant offices in Vicksburg.

The Madison native plans to reconnect with that doctor and let him know how she fared after being crowned Miss Mississippi on Saturday at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

James, Miss Metro Jackson, was selected from 45 contestants after a week of competition. She received a $10,000 scholarship from the Miss Mississippi Corp. and will represent the state in January's Miss America pageant in Las Vegas.

"I had to really get over the scar for the swimsuit competition and learn to deal with it," she said, remembering the fourth-grade hospital stay that provided one of her favorite childhood memories.

James said she received balloons and stuffed animals, but then her best friend put a gift bag in her bed and it started moving.

"The week before, her dog had a litter of puppies, and she snuck them into the hospital in a bag. It was really sweet," she said.

James credits her parents, David and Faye James, with motivating her and her older sister Rachel, 24, to set goals and achieve them.

Her father is an insurance agent, and her mother is a lawyer for the state.

"My mother was actually a piano major at Mississippi State University who ended up going to law school," said James, who played a classical piece during the talent competition.

"My mom always said we had to take one art and one sport. And my dad always repeated one of his favorite quotes, 'Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do so you can be the person you want to be.' "

James was voted Most Likely to Succeed by her Madison Central High School peers.

The self-described "dork" loves to read, and her favorite author is C.S. Lewis.

She was a competitive cheerleader who took gymnastics as a child.

James is left-handed; "deathly" afraid of spiders, no matter their size; loves mint chocolate chip ice cream and naps; and dreams of visiting all seven continents.

Her favorite movie is Pirates of the Caribbean because it "combines her love for adventure with her love for Johnny Depp."

Her musical tastes range from The Beatles, Otis Redding and The Who to Ben Harper, James Taylor and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. She enjoys volunteering, and to earn extra money, she's worked as a waitress/cashier at McAlister's Deli and as a boutique sales clerk.

James, who was named Miss Mississippi State University 2009, is studying public relations and journalism with a minor in Spanish.

She had intended to return to MSU this year but will now take a year off from college to assume responsibilities as Miss Mississippi.

"I think it will be a learning experience. I'm going to get in the field of public relations, (and this) is probably going to teach me a lot, so I won't be behind," she said.

This year's success follows two previous attempts at capturing the crown.

"The first year, I was 100 percent in it for the experience," she said. "My goal was just to survive the week. But I enjoyed it so much, I was really happy to come back.

"This year, it was difficult because I really, really wanted to be Miss Mississippi. But I'm a firm believer that everyone has a purpose, and that God has a plan for everyone.

"I gave it to him, and I decided that if he wanted me to be Miss Mississippi this year, that was how it was going to turn out ... I'm very thankful he gave me this purpose."

James said she thought of her grandparents when her name was called for the Top 10. "My mother's father has had numerous surgeries. He told me he wanted to see me crowned Miss Mississippi. Just the opportunity to perform for them
and the rest of the people who have supported me was really enough."

During the crowning, James said she thought of the Bible verse: "Be still, and know that I am God."

"It still doesn't seem real," she said Sunday, adding that she hopes to promote her platform of organ and tissue donation.

In her pageant biography, she noted how a family friend, Ralph McDaniel, was the beneficiary of a liver transplant.

"He was able to spend precious additional years with his family. These years were a gift made possible by a stranger, an anonymous organ donor," James wrote.

Following the pageant Saturday night, David Blackledge, head of the pageant's board of directors, said: "I think we have an outstanding Miss Mississippi. We definitely think she will represent us well in Las Vegas."

Miss Mississippi's mother was gracious and proud of her daughter's achievement.

"All of the contestants were so worthy, and we are honored that the judges chose Sarah Beth," Faye James said.

"What a wonderful year she is going to have, but she worked very hard for it."

She said her daughter is laid back and not much upsets her or throws her off.

"She's very disciplined and gives 100 percent with whatever she does. And she is truly very genuine. What you see is what you get," Faye James said.

Dad David James also was elated.

"I told everybody when they called out her name, I felt like I was shot out of a cannon, and I haven't come down," he said.

"Sarah Beth is curious. She is a person who is so interested in everyone else - what people do, where they are from and what their experiences are - and that makes her extremely likeable."