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UC alumna Heather Renee French Miss America 2000

2000 Miss America Heather Renee French

UC alumna Heather Renee French was crowned Miss America 2000 by Nicole Johnson.

2000 Miss America Heather Renee French, DAAP '97, MDes '01

by Mary Niehaus

In her fourth try for the title, UC graduate student Heather Renee French, DAAP '97, was crowned Miss America 2000.

"This is such a dream come true," she told reporters after receiving her crown in September. "It's like a Cinderella story. I don't know whether to laugh or cry."

Mostly, the new Miss America was smiling. A young woman with great spirit, French enjoyed substantial benefits: a $40,000 scholarship, up to $200,000 for personal appearances and speaking fees, and a complete wardrobe from New York designers like Kasper and Anne Klein. Acing the national swimsuit competition and honored for her "quality of life" speaker's platform on behalf of homeless Vietnam veterans garnered her another $2,500.

French readily acknowledged that it took more than brains, beauty and talent to be Miss America. Self-confidence, perseverance, maturity and the ability to think clearly and articulate one's thoughts were essential. Her co-op experience at UC helped develop those traits.

"Heather co-oped in a St. Louis design firm," said her mother, Diana French. "What she experienced there really helped her become a more mature, well-rounded person. She worked in graphic design, but she also helped with a promotional tape showing businesses how to interview people for jobs. That is Heather's strong point, the interview."

During questioning by pageant co-host Marie Osmond, French projected friendliness and poise. Osmond acknowledged the student's involvement in numerous musical, artistic and teaching projects, and asked whether she feared being labeled a "jack of all trades, master of none." "No," she replied. "In today's world, you have to be able to do many things well." Audience members applauded her comment that "when you stop learning, you stop living."

French also drew applause from DAAP's Dean Jay Chatterjee when she took time on national television to describe her college by its full name — Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Osmond had mistakenly referred to the university's "jazz" college.

Grace Meacham, professor of fashion design at UC, vouched for the new Miss America's persevering spirit, noting that "in this day and age, it's very different to find a student with this kind of drive." French had been part of the fashion design program for seven years, first as an undergrad and, at the time of the pageant, as an instructor in fashion drawing and an author of a textbook about the history of fashion design and illustration.

Taking a sabbatical to fulfill personal appearance and speaking obligations, French traveled about 20,000 miles a month. In her fist week as Miss America, she appeared on "Good Morning America," "The Donny and Marie Show" and "The David Letterman Show." Her parents, who lived in Maysville, Ky., kept up with their celebrity daughter through scheduled faxes to them by the Miss America organization.

Heather French Henry and Joe Orlando hosting a TV show in Lousiville

Heather French Henry, hosting the "Fox in the Morning" news and entertainment show on Louisville's WDRB-TV, with co-host Joe Orlando. Photo courtesty of WDRB-TV.

Miss America's new titles: Mrs. and Second Lady

Heather French has a new title: Second Lady of Kentucky. On Oct. 27, 2000, shortly after completing her year as Miss America, Heather married Kentucky Lt. Gov. Stephen Henry, an orthopedic surgeon who teaches at two universities and shares his bride's advocacy of veterans' rights.

Not surprisingly for a fashion design graduate, Heather collaborated with designers in New York and Nashville to create her white silk peau de soie gown, which was heavily embroidered with crystal beads and rhinestones. For her "something borrowed," the bride wore a $1 million diamond tiara that once graced the head of Princess Diana.

The wedding drew a full-capacity audience of 1,200 to the historic Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. Among them were Miss Massachusetts 2000 (a bridesmaid), three Miss Kentuckys, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton and media celebrity Nick Clooney.

An ensemble of pipers and drummers led the couple to their carriage for the ride to the reception at the historic Seelbach Hotel, attended by 1,500 guests.

In May 2002, Heather French Henry was featured in our "Expert Advice from Alumni" issue. Her tips follow:


Tips for living a full life after taking off the crown

by Heather French, DAAP '97, MDes '01, Miss America 2000

Continue to speak out. Winning the Miss America 2000 title gave me the opportunity not only to travel across the United States speaking about the plight of our nation's forgotten heroes, but also to gain a national perspective on the issues. My concern, as the daughter of a veteran, is to find ways to increase awareness, education and funding for veterans' needs.

Put words into action. We have already made some progress against homelessness. Partnering with the Manufactured Housing Institute and SENCO, we created the "Homes for Heroes" program, which provides houses to formerly homeless veterans. The Heather French Foundation for Veterans was also formed to serve homeless veterans, and we have established a dot-com to help raise funds. I am also the spokesperson for the campaign to help Vietnam veterans fight Hepatitis C.

Keep on lobbying. Throughout my Miss America year, my platform often took me to Washington to lobby members of Congress and the Senate on veterans' issues and legislation. Recently, the "Stuart Collick-Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act" (H.R. 2716) passed with flying colors before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Senate version of the bill is currently being reviewed.

Finish school. Traveling more than 20,000 miles a month as Miss America, I saw first hand the importance of education as the way to better the lives of all Americans. I committed to live by example and made education my No. 1 priority. After my Miss America year, I returned to UC and completed my master's degree at the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. My graduate thesis focused on designs for garments inspired by heroic events throughout American military history.

Have a storybook wedding. After completing my Miss America obligations in September 2000, I married Lt. Gov. Stephen Henry of Kentucky at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, followed by an old-fashioned carriage ride to our reception for 1,500 guests at a historic Louisville hotel. As a fashion-design graduate, I was pleased to be able to create my white silk peau de soie gown in collaboration with designers in New York and Nashville.

Start a family. A beautiful daughter, Harper Reneé Henry, arrived the following July. She weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces and was named after her mother and grandmother.

Begin a broadcasting career. My new job is to host WDRB-TV's "Fox in the Morning" show. I'm enjoying the eclectic mix of feature stories, interviews, entertainment and commentary. The program airs each weekday morning (6-9 a.m.) in the Louisville market.

Henry, whose winnings from the Miss Kentucky and Miss America programs helped her complete her college education, was honored by the UC Alumni Association last year as the 2001 recipient of the Jeffrey Hurwitz Young Alumni Association Outstanding Achievement Award, an honor presented at the UC Day Banquet. The Vietnam Veterans of America recognized Henry's efforts on behalf of veterans by awarding her their 2001 bronze medallion for public service, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Organization recently honored her with the Purple Heart Recognition Award.