Downer reigns as PGC queen for Spring Pilgrimage

Published 12:35 am Sunday, March 19, 2017

By Lyndy Berryhill

NATCHEZ — Being a part of Spring Pilgrimage has always been a family tradition for Caroline Downer, but the pilgrimage experience was taken to a new level when she was named the first queen in her family.

The Cathedral graduate will reign over the Historic Natchez Tableaux for the Pilgrimage Garden Club during the first half of Spring Pilgrimage.

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“I think it’s really exciting,” Downer said.

Downer said she was involved in tableaux from age 6, so it was nice to get dressed up again this year.

She is the daughter of Melanie Miller Downer of Natchez and Jeff Downer of Brookhaven. Her grandparents are Gail Miller Smith and the late Fleet Miller of Osyka and Judi Downer and the late Tom Downer of Olive Branch.

Throughout her 12 years of involvement with the tableaux, Downer has been a part of Little Maypole, Big Maypole, Placard Bearer, Picnic, Polka, Showboat and Soirée, where she was the lead dancer her senior year of high school.

Downer said she still cherishes a portrait of her and her brother Miller dressed up for their performances.

One of her earliest memories is getting fitted for a “fancy outfit” during Tableaux, but her favorite memory is when she played the lead in Soirée.

“I got to do that with all of my friends,” Downer said.

“You form really close bonds and close relationships,” Downer said. “Especially in Natchez because it’s a small town.”

During her reign, Downer will be wearing a dress previously worn by queen Joanna Biglane.

Downer’s ivory gown will feature a 15-foot-long train and will have a hand-beaded overlay, which was added just for her.

Her crown and scepter were custom made by Dynasty collection in Mobile, Ala. The company, which has been making crowns for more than 150 years, has designed custom crowns for Saints football player Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany Brees, as well as for actors Will Ferrell and Val Kilmer.

Although Downer said she cherishes her close bonds, she was the only one in her graduating class to attend Rhodes College. She said one of the reasons she chose to attend the Memphis, Tenn., college was because it was far enough away to feel independent, yet close enough to drive home.

When Downer talks about her pilgrimage responsibilities, most of her college peers give Downer a quizzical look.

“I’ve had to explain (Pilgrimage) a lot,” Downer said.

Despite the distance, she has been involved in school.

Downer is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and is currently serving as vice president of standards. She volunteers at the Food Recovery Network, which distributes leftover cafeteria food to Memphis soup kitchens.

Last Fall, Downer was accepted into the Rhodes’ European studies study abroad program and studied at Oxford University for six weeks. She then traveled to France, Italy, Germany and Belgium to study art history before returning.

Downer said, through all of her accomplishments and regal duties, her mother, Melanie Miller Downer, has been her anchor.

“She has been the greatest support system throughout this,” Downer said.