By Lena Basha
Volume 140, No. 2, March/April 2006, Page 5
Sylvia Hitchcock Carson remembers a lot about 1967. In May, she was a 21-year-old student at the University of Alabama, honing her skills as an artist. By August, she was making public appearances around the world, fulfilling her role as Miss Universe, after having won both Miss Alabama and Miss USA.
Nominated by her Chi Omega sorority sisters, she says she didn’t see it coming. “I just walked out on the runway and had a good time, never thinking I would win. The crown just sort of fell in my lap, just because I was being myself. I knew I couldn’t please everybody, so I focused on being myself and having fun.”
Today, Mrs. Carson, a community servant, dedicated DAR member, wife for 35 years to William Carson, mother of three and grandmother of two, is just as vibrant as the day she won.
“No matter what age we are, it’s important to take care of ourselves,” she says. “By not caring about how we feel and how we look, we’re only injuring ourselves. The ones who live the longest are the ones who keep active. Staying active is important for the sake of aging gracefully.”
For that reason, she thinks retirement is the worst thing in the world—and it shows in her packed schedule. On any given day, you’ll find her bouncing from meeting to meeting or promoting a book in which she’ll be featured, Universal Beauty (Rutledge Hill, 2006), to be released in April.
One of her proudest accomplishments was her involvement in the Friends of Cypress Gardens, a grassroots effort that successfully preserved Florida’s oldest public attraction and protected it from private developers.
Growing up in a patriotic family—three of her five siblings served in the military—Mrs. Carson is also dedicated to advancing the principles of the DAR. Her aunt and mentor, Sylvia Gardner Little, helped Mrs. Carson get involved in the DAR in 1967 as a member of the Betsy Ross-Samuel Adams Chapter, Methuen, Mass. Mrs. Carson transferred to the Lake Wales Chapter, Lake Wales, Fla., in 1988.
“We all need to be involved in history,” the former Chapter Regent says. “We need to know what happened so we can learn from it. Yet, I also see DAR as about the future—not just about resting on the laurels of our ancestors and what they did. We should be doers. We owe it to our country because our forefathers died for us.”
To emphasize the importance of history education, Mrs. Carson encourages her grandchildren to be involved in historical celebrations like Constitution Week in September. She also chairs the Constitution, American History, ROTC and DAR Good Citizens committees for her local chapter.
“I stay so involved because I love the camaraderie. They’re such fun people and you can learn so much from them,” she says of her fellow Daughters. “It’s fun being with intelligent, motivated people, who, most importantly, stand up for what they believe.”
Next on her list is a trip to Costa Rica, where she’ll teach one-stroke painting to impoverished locals. “By teaching them this easy trade, they can sell their art,” she says.
Mrs. Carson knows she could probably do less, but she wouldn’t live her life any other way. “You never know what little thing you might do that could have a major impact on someone’s life,” she says. “I always try to work toward that.”
Credit: Photo by James Kilby