Miss Stuart High School 1943: Jean Penn Walker (Doss)
In 1943, the U.S. was still in the grip of the Great Depression. The economy of Patrick County was especially hard hit because the chestnut blight had devastated the forests of the Blue Ridge, decimating the timber industry and meat production from wild boar that thrived on chestnuts. Additionally, the nation was at war with National Socialist Germany and Imperial Japan. Young men were being drafted right out of high school and right off the farms. Metal, rubber (such as car tires), and gasoline were scarce and tightly rationed. Even food products, already in short supply because of the depression, were rationed because of the war. Times were tough for everyone.
This was the reality when the Miss Stuart High School beauty contest was held in 1943. And one young lady was new to the school. Jean Penn Walker had recently transferred to Stuart from Hardin Reynolds Memorial School, having moved from Critz to Stuart. The economy was especially bleak in her family because her father, Samuel Walker, had died when she was eight as a result of an injury from the First World War. Her mother, Myrtle Tatum Walker, was left to raise three children alone in the Great Depression.
Jean Walker certainly owned no evening dress and had no thought of entering a beauty contest. But her friend LaVergne Tuck, whose family ran a popular café on Main Street in Stuart, persuaded Jean to enter the contest and lent her a dress. The Cinderella ending was that Jean Walker, the new girl in town, the girl without a dress, won the beauty contest in a borrowed evening gown. Because of the war and lack of metal, there was no gold “loving cup” trophy. Instead, the winner received a corsage of War Savings Stamps.
This was perfectly fine for Jean Walker. When she graduated from Stuart High School, she enlisted in the U.S. Army’s Cadet Nursing Corps and enrolled in the Martin Memorial School of Nursing in Mt. Airy, N.C. But when she graduated, the war was over! The Army didn’t need her. And what would she do with those War Savings Stamps from that beauty contest? They were cashed in to pay for her first nursing uniform after she passed the state nursing exam. More practical than a metal trophy!
Jean Walker went on to marry a war veteran, William H. Doss. They ran a clothing store in Stuart, Stuart Department Store; and she also worked as a nurse, first at Dr. Curtis Akers’ hospital where the Sun Trust Bank now stands, later, at the R.J. Reynolds Patrick Memorial Hospital. They had three children, Linda Jean (married Ronnie Jones, now living in Danville), William Christopher, and Samuel Jackson (married Ann Schleppenbach, now living in Leesburg).
Jean died in Danville 12 October 2020, age 94. In addition to her children, she is also survived by four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A graveside service will be held at Patrick Memorial Gardens (arrangements incomplete).