Outgoing Miss America Earned Raves


Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Every contender for the Miss America crown adopts a cause — be it literacy, AIDS advocacy or another social issue.

Some do so because it's a pageant requirement.

Not Heather French, the reigning Miss America who spent much of her year lobbying lawmakers for more support for homeless veterans. Her platform ran much deeper than pageant protocol.

``It wasn't just a platform for me,'' French, 25, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, said Sunday in an interview looking back on her reign. ``Being able to show America that we haven't taken care of our veterans the way we should have, it was very emotional.''

Appearing at shelters, speaking to groups and lobbying Congress for better programs during her 20,000-mile-a-month tour, French earned rave reviews from advocates in the field.

``On Capitol Hill, in the communities, with our posts, she was just fantastic,'' said Steve Thomas, a spokesman for the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization.

In November, President Clinton saluted her efforts at a Veterans Day event.

In February, she urged Kentucky lawmakers to seek federal money for her home state's 350,000 veterans.

In March, she asked that $750,000 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget be devoted to homeless veterans.

In May, she rode a motorcycle through Washington, D.C., during a ``Rolling Thunder'' rally to commemorate prisoners of war and veterans still missing in action.

During one appearance, a veteran introduced her by saying: ``She may be Miss America, she may be a former Miss Kentucky, but she's every veteran's daughter.''

French, of Maysville, Ky., won the crown last year while studying fashion design at the University of Cincinnati.

The beauty queen says she won't abandon her cause once her reign ends Saturday night at the 80th annual Miss America Pageant. She has agreed to write a weekly column on veterans issues for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, and serve as its ambassador.

But her first priority after surrendering the throne is to marry Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, 46, in Louisville on Oct. 27.

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On the Net:

Miss America: http://www.missamerica.org

American Legion: http://www.legion.org

Stars and Stripes: http://www.pstripes.com