Miss America 1960 returning to Natchez

Published 12:04 am Friday, May 27, 2016

NATCHEZ — Natchez royalty is coming home to celebrate.

Miss America 1960 Lynda Lee Mead Shea is thrilled to be coming back to her hometown Saturday to help commemorate the Natchez Tricentennial.

“I am always happy for any opportunity to come to Natchez,” Shea said from her home in Memphis. “I have so many dear friends still there and love to come home to visit.”

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Shea said she is looking forward to joining the celebration of Natchez’s 300th birthday. Shea said she will be in town Saturday to attend the performance of “Carmen” at the Natchez Festival of Music.

Festival of Music board member Doris Ann Benoist said Shea was excited to be invited.

“She loves Natchez so much,” Benoist said. “She is so generous and giving of her time.”

Benoist didn’t move to Natchez until 1962, but she does remember the day Shea was crowned.

“I remember the excitement when she was named Miss America and how proud we were that she was from Natchez,” Benoist said.

A friend of the family for more than 50 years, Benoist said the board had hoped to have Shea as a special guest for the production of “Show Boat.” Benoist and Shea were part of a group of local residents who traveled to New York for the premier of the 1994 Broadway revival.

Unfortunately Shea could not attend because of a scheduled trip, Benoist said. So Benoist invited her friend to come see “Carmen.”

“She jumped at the chance when I called her,” Benoist said. “She said, ‘Of course I will come.’”

Festival of Music Board Chair Mary Lessley said there would be a presentation recognizing Shea at Saturday night’s event at which Shea will say a few words.

“We are thrilled that she is coming for our finale,” Lessley said.

Shea graduated from Natchez High School in 1957 and attended Ole Miss, where in her junior year she became Miss University, Miss Mississippi and Miss America 1960.

After her reign, Shea returned to graduate from Ole Miss. In 1964, she married Memphis ear surgeon Dr. John Shea. They raised three children, who now reside in Memphis. Dr. Shea died in in February 2015.

An interior designer, Shea is the founder and president of Shea Design. She owned and operated an antiques shop that specialized in French imports until it closed in 2015.

Shea said she tries to get back to Natchez as often as she can, at least one a year.

Benoist said she always looks forward to reconnecting with her friend when Shea does come back home.

“I guess she shows you can come home again, because she loves coming home,” Benoist said.

The Natchez Festival of Music’s production of “Carmen” will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Natchez Performing Arts Center at Margaret Martin, 64 Homochitto St.