Samford University alumna Deidre Downs '02 was crowned Miss America 2005 in Atlantic City Sept. 18.
The Birmingham resident earned a history degree at Samford and is remembered by classics professor Doug Clapp as being an "outstanding student," and "top performer" in his Latin 202 course, in which she wrestled particularly with challenging ancient historical texts.
Downs was accepted by the University of Alabama School of Medicine to begin studies this fall but postponed her education after winning the Miss Alabama pageant in her fifth and last year of eligibility. Downs now begins an exhausting schedule of public appearances, and although medical school will wait another year, her campaign against childhood cancer likely will get a boost from her notoriety and national platform.
The Miss America Organization, the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women, said Downs will log approximately 20,000 miles each month in the next year as she works to raise awareness of her platform. The aspiring pediatrician already has spent many hours promoting the cause through the Making Miracles organization she founded in 2002 to raise awareness of and research funds for the fight against pediatric cancer.
Through her organization, Downs established a program to sell automobile license plates to support the Alabama Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Children's Hospital in Birmingham. The plates cost $50 each, of which $41.25 goes to the hospital. Downs' organization had to sell 1,000 plates by July 31 to qualify for the state to manufacture the tags. The organization sold 2,059 by that date, the largest number of pre-sold specialty tags in state history.
Carol Ann Vaughn, director of Samford's Christian Women's Leadership Center, has long been impressed by Downs.
"I've known Deidre outside of the pageant culture for several years, and that is where, in my opinion, she shines," Vaughn said. "She is a brilliant, mature, compassionate, classy young woman without pageant titles."
Suzanne Martin, Samford's director of leadership education and service, also has known Downs for many years. Martin attends church with Downs at Birmingham's Baptist Church of the Covenant and was even her Sunday school teacher at one point.
"I am thrilled for her…she is a fantastic human being and I believe deserves this opportunity and the scholarship money that will come with it," Martin said. Martin said her football-fan son especially was impressed that in addition to her other achievements Downs "can throw an almost perfect spiral pass."
Martin said Downs, who served on the Leadership Samford Planning Team, was involved in other campus organizations and nominated for a prestigious International Scholarship, and is "extremely humble and more interested in what others think than in telling you what she thinks." However, Martin noted, Downs isn't afraid to articulate her theological and political beliefs even when they might not be popular. "She will be an outstanding, thoughtful and intentional steward of this experience."