It proved to be only the beginning of a whirlwind of activity for
the town and the beauty queen as Jeanne Flinn Swanner prepared for
the even bigger festivities in Atlantic City, the Miss America
Commemorating those events is a new exhibit opening Sunday
afternoon, the 40th anniversary of her crowning as Miss North
Carolina, at the Graham Historical Museum, 135 West Elm Street in
Graham, from 2:00-5:00 p.m.
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Jeanne was then -- and still holds the
record as -- the tallest contestant ever to compete in the national
But is was not only her height that attracted attention and caused
people -- in Graham, and across the state and nation -- to remember
It was also her humor, a lifelong trait that carried her into a
career as a professional speaker and humorist across the country.
She was repeatedly asked, "Are you really 6'2" tall?"
Characteristic was her quip when someone observed she ought to be an
inspiration for tall girls. "I'd rather be an inspiration for tall
boys," she observed.
Her talent, playing the ukulele and singing original songs, was
unique, indeed. One of the questions posed to her at the Miss North
Carolina pageant also captured that humor. "If you boarded a plane
and found yourself sitting beside Elvis Presley, what would you
do?" She referred to her baritone ukulele presentation and replied
without hesitation, "I'd get out my ukulele and let him hear some of
The former Miss North Carolina, Jeanne Swanner Robertson, now lives
in Burlington, and has provided some of the memorabilia items for
the new exhibit -- entitled "Behind her all the way - Graham's Miss
North Carolina." Citizens have come forward since the exhibit was
first announced in February to provide other pieces. The exhibit
will include numerous pictures and even a video made from film
footage fro the 1960s.
Jeanne (pronounced then as two syllables, like the genie in a
bottle) hopes to keep the focus of the exhibit on the tribute to the
people of Graham who responded so overwhelmingly to her achievement.
The town rallied around their beauty queen -- free use of a car from
County Ford, free dry cleaning, free cosmetics from a local drug
store, free hosiery from Glen Raven Mills, help from a local
seamstress in sewing dresses for future appearances, donated
corduroy from the county's famous Cone Mills manufacturer to make
some outfits, including an evening dress. "Home of Miss North
Carolina" signs were posted on the major thoroughfares into town;
The Alamance News carried that same moniker under its front page
banner throughout her year-long reign.
Graham Jaycees president Tyson Johnson summarized the town's
enthusiasm for the former high school cheerleader and basketball
player and lifeguard at the Graham swimming pool: "Graham, although
not big is physical size, is a giant in the things that count:
helpful, generous people." Indeed, it was a comment by Johnson in a
letter which provided the title for the exhibit 40 years later,
expressing that Graham was "behind her all the way."