This month Fourpoints Magazine published the following article about her, along with this beautiful cover:
When Heather French was crowned Miss America 2000, she made history as the frst-ever Miss America from Kentucky. She wowed the nation with her eloquence and fervor regarding homeless veterans. Today, she continues to be highly involved with both her original platform and the Miss America Organization. A wife, mother, and former Miss America, Heather French Henry continues to put the shine in the Miss America crown.
When Heather was a little girl, she knew she was going to be Miss America. This lofty goal was made even loftier by the fact that Heather didn’t have much interest in pageants and, in fact, did not start competing in pageants until age 20. She, of course, did realize her dream of becoming Miss America. After giving up her crown, however, she also realized that life as a former Miss America could be just as challenging as the journey to the crown.
“After you give up the crown, you are still expected to do all the things a Miss America does—you just no longer have a staff,” says Heather with humor in her voice.
The transition from Miss America to wife and mother has not always been an easy one, a fact that Heather readily admits to.“It’s very humbling to go from a limo to a minivan,” says Heather. “People see me at the grocery store and say they’re surprised I do my own grocery shopping. But I don’t hide the fact that I’m a wife and a mother. And before that, I was just a normal young lady. We are all really just ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things.”
And Heather has continued to do extraordinary things. Her platform regarding homeless veterans has grown into the Heather French Foundation for Veterans, which concerns itself with all the lights of veterans, including health care issues like Hepatitis.
“The foundation works on a broad spectrum of issues. We work with special pieces of legislation and lobby to get more money for community organizations. A lot of civilians don’t understand the problems facing veterans. There are so many issues, ranging from homelessness to Hepatitis C from non sterile military vaccines to inadequate healthcare,” explains Heather.
In conjunction with the Heather French Foundation for Veterans, Heather has authored five children’s books centered around veterans and patriotic holidays. If the books are purchased directly from Heather’s Web site, 100% of the profits goes directly back to the foundation.
“The books initially started with teachers need information on veterans and it developed into more. They are a service tool to help with the daunting task of teaching kids about veterans,” says Heather.
She is also currently working on a book for adults—pageant contestants in particular—with former Miss Americas Ericka Dunlap and Katie Harman Ebner. The book will highlight each woman’s individual journey to the Miss America crown. “The book is really for people, contestants, to learn more about the successes beyond the crown. Don’t get me wrong—the crown brought a lot of benefits. But it can also overshadow all that you can gain,” says Heather.
It is her hope that the book will help derail the misconception that only a rich, white contestant can become Miss America.“You have the three of us, who each had totally different upbringings. The reader is going to actually see three different perspectives. And while I know that we have a basic unity of opinions, the reader will definitely walk away knowing who thinks what. The underlying concept in the whole book is that you can get there, no matter who you are,” says Heather. The book will also provide tips and hints to women hoping to become Miss America one day.
“We want to teach our readers things we wish we would have known. When I was competing for Miss Dunesland, I think the think I cried my eyes out about the most was getting a song cut for my talent. I had no idea how to do it and I had no money, so I ended up going to a music department at a college and ending up with this choppy, embarrassing song. I had no idea how to do that,” recalls Heather.
This type of information, and more, is the kind of thing some beginning pageant contestants may not know about.“Not every girl can afford to have a coach, and that’s okay. Part of the beauty of this is teaching these young ladies how to do things on their own. The whole experience really is in the journey—and you’re the only one on it,” says Heather.
Another exciting project Heather is working on is her own line of pageant wear that will be debut at the 2008 Miss America pageant.
“I originally went to school for fashion design and since I’ve been so heavily involved in politics for the last few years, I wanted to get back to this side of me,” says Heather. “In the past few years, I have really seen a need for new pageant design.” Heather, who has always been known for her engaging personal style, aims to offer contestants “beauty, with a little tweaking.”“I want to cater more to Miss America contestants, because my standard will be the American woman. A girl should feel like a millions bucks in her gown and that gown should enhance what the girl is actually like. I believe that great design does not necessarily mean liquid beading. After all, sometimes more is just more,” says Heather.
Anyone who saw Heather at the Miss America pageant the year she was crowned knows that she has a keen eye for style.“The gown I wore at Miss America was designed by Sherri Hill, who has always been such an inspiration to me. The gown came to me as a sample. It didn’t have a stitch of bearding on it and when I put it on, I felt like I could walk down the red carpet at the Oscar’s,” recalls Heather. “I chose that gown over two others because it enhanced what is good about me; my hair, my face, my shoulders. That is what a gown should do.”
In addition to providing contestants with the perfect gown, Heather wants to provide them with something else: her years of experience as a successful Miss America contestant.“When a young lady purchases a gown from me, she will deal with me directly. That young lady will get the added bonus of spending time with me. This is really a two-folded mission to provide a one-of-a-kind experience,” says Heather.
In addition to volunteer working, writing, and designing, Heather also remains very active in her home state of Kentucky as a spokesperson for Dean’s Milk and AAA Kentucky.
“I have to get used to kids knowing me as the milk lady and not Miss America,” jokes Heather, although she acknowledges that some people will always see her as Miss America.“For a lot of people, especially people in my hometown, I am their symbol for Miss America,” says Heather.
Though she may always be royalty to some, Heather is simply known as wife and mother to three very important people: her husband Steve, a surgeon, and her two daughters Harper and Taylor.Her daughters think it’s hilarious when she is recognized in public, but don’t exhibit a particular interest in pageants.
“They like to play pageant and wear the crown and all of that, but I’m not sure yet if they are going to want to compete. My oldest daughter Harper, gets it. She understands the whole concept of Miss America. But my youngest, Taylor, immediately thinks that any evening event is a pageant and I am going to compete. At the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant in Orlando, I had to leave early for the show one night and she wanted to give me a kiss and a hug in case I didn’t win,” laughs Heather.
If the two girls ever show an interest in competing, Heather will certainly support that, but she won’t push it.
“It’s more important to me at this point that they understand the mission of the Miss America Organization,” says Heather.That mission—to provide scholarship assistance to millions of young women—has changed Heather’s life completely.
“Being Miss America really and truly changes my life. Everyday, I think about what my life would be like if I wasn’t Miss America. I think about all the opportunities this organization has given me. Would those have come along otherwise?” says Heather.
She continues, years later, to sing the praises of the Miss America Organization and all the volunteers that make it possible.
“The duty I feel to say thank you to the volunteers who actually fun the program is overwhelming. It’s all about the volunteers. That’s why I feel it is so important to give back to the local and state pageants,” says Heather.
She and her family also make it a point to attend the Miss America pageant each year.“I can’t imagine not going,” says Heather. “You can sympathize and collaborate with these people and it becomes a very close-knit circle. When you compete, you make life long friends.”
Although Heather French Henry predicted that she would become Miss America at age 4, she could in no way predict how it would affect her life. The journey she stated on that stage in Atlantic City has given her a voice, a mission, a new set of dreams, and a whole new life. She is committed to giving back to the organization that gave her so much. And she has no regrets.“If they asked me to be Miss America tomorrow, I would do it all over again,” says Heather.