Coastal Georgia Welcomes New Miss Blessing of the Fleet and Annual Festival
This weekend, the sleepy southern coastal town of Darien, Ga., will come to life, thanks to the 47th annual Blessing of the Fleet Festival. This whirl-wide three-day fest is a gathering that attracts more than 35,000 people each year and pays homage to the fishing and shrimping community which has for decades been the life-blood of the community.
While the central element of the festival is the vessel blessing with area clergy, held at 2 p.m. Sunday, the days and hours leading up to the spiritual ceremony promise to be packed with entertainment for the whole family. And for me, the associate editor and social media director at the community’s newspaper, The Darien News, the fest’s reach extends far beyond the weekend’s celebration, to encompasses weeks of work to prep the newspaper’s massive week-of-the-festival edition. (Truly, the week of the festival, our newspaper is as large as the Christmas edition. It’s a BIG task for our small staff.)
It was a pleasure, though, to dig into the spirit of the community and get a feel for folks love of the event. Here, I spoke with the newly-crowned Miss Blessing of the Fleet to hear how the 15-year-old Darien native is handling her new role.
Miss Blessing of the Fleet Represents Community Well
By Anna Hall
Walking into a room, Malorie Thomas stands inches above almost everyone, her wide smile adding an instant brightness to the room. Although she is merely 15 years old, the McIntosh County Academy freshman possesses a sense of grace, composure and humility that are rarely showcased in young adult- or grown adults, for that matter.
Likely, it was this distinct degree of polish and poise which helped her earn the title of the 2014 Miss Blessing of the Fleet in the annual pageant.
Malorie, though, is not one to boast. She never thought the honor would be hers, not even as the crown and sash were placed on her tall frame.
“I was simply shocked when they called my name,” Malorie said of the evening in mid-March when she took home the grand prize. “It took a while to sink in.”
Malorie’s mother, Misty Thomas, too was a bit thrown off when her shy, modest daughter was crowned the winner. Malorie has been in a few pageants before, but those were when she was much younger. And since Malorie entered the Miss Blessing pageant as one of the youngest contestants, competing against girls several years her senior, Misty Thomas just thought the pageant would be a learning experience more than anything.
“When she said she wanted to enter, I said sure, but we never really thought this would be the result,” Misty Thomas laughs. “I have always known how beautiful she was, but when your 15 year-old is up there against a 20 year-old, you have to be realistic. I was a little surprised, but also I am so proud of her.”
Malorie may look the part of a beauty queen, standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with shiny brown hair and dazzling dark eyes. But “pretty” isn’t the word she uses to describe herself. Rather, she puts her looks on a back burner, preferring instead to lean on her book smarts and go get ‘em personality to lead her on her road to success. When asked how she would portray her character, she has only one word.
“Goal-oriented,” Malorie nods. “When there is something I want to achieve, I do all I can to get it.”
That ideal certainly worked out for the pageant. It, too, was a major factor in her childhood, when she had to overcome serious medical conditions to fit into normal society. Malorie was born with a cleft palette, meaning her mouth wasn’t entirely formed when she came into the world. Doctors told her family that Malorie would have permanent and severe hearing loss, as well as a lifetime speech impediment, but Misty Thomas wouldn’t take that for an acceptable diagnosis. Taking her daughter to specialists, Misty Thomas found a physician who conducted surgery to close the gap in her mouth. At 9 months old, Malorie started speech therapy, to learn how to move her mouth properly. She, too, was on feeding tubes for the first 2 years of her life, has had multiple tubes put in her ears, and had braces for a large chunk of her childhood to correct any oral defects.
“The doctor told us Malorie would never live a normal life,” Misty Thomas said. “Look at her now. She’s as normal as can be.”
The trying times of her childhood didn’t scar Malorie in the least. Instead, the trials and tribulations gave her a strong backbone, a willingness to accept support from friends and family, and a very healthy outlook on life, knowing she can overcome anything thrown in her path.
Malorie hopes to take that determined attitude with her into her future, where her path will hopefully lead her into the medical field.
“I hope to be a pharmacist, or if not that, work with children who were born with the same condition I had. I had to learn very early on that things are never perfect, but you can always work a little harder to make the most of the situation. I actually had to do that during the pageant,” she said, noting the moment on stage when the contestants answer a question from the judges. When asked what quality she would convey to an audience if she were the star of a television show, Malorie knew exactly what to say. “I meant to say ‘In order to gain respect, you have to earn it.’ What I actually said was, ‘In order to earn respect, you have to gain it,’ and then I tried to backup and fix it. I got pretty flustered. But, I guess the judges didn’t notice too much.”
Up next, Malorie will take her Miss Blessing of the Fleet title to the Miss Golden Isles pageant, which feeds into the Miss Georgia pageant. Both pageants are a while away, and Malorie has her sights focused on the here and now. School is the top priority, where she plans to do dual enrollment at the College of Coastal Georgia her junior and senior years of high school. Aside from her academics, Malorie fills her busy schedule with her job, working at Skipper’s Fish Camp, and tries to fit in a few of her favorite leisure activities. A self-described Tomboy, Malorie spends her (limited) free time fishing, shrimping and playing on the beach, if not for the occasional trip with her Grandmother. Recently, the two traveled to Atlanta for a shopping excursion, one which left Malorie floored, not only by the sizes of the malls and the abundance of options, but also by the price tags in the Big City.
“Everything was much more expensive, so I didn’t buy much,” she laughed. “It was fun, though. My grandmother is like my best friend. I love when we can travel together.”
Family is a central support in her life. Her mother, father, and grandmother, as well as her older brother, Brad, have always been guiding lights for her, lifting her spirits and giving her the strong sense of confidence that is easily seen, as was proven by that evening several weeks ago when she beat out 11 other lovely ladies to clinch the win.
“We have a close-knit family, and this is also a very close-knit community, which is why I love it here,” Malorie said. “This is the perfect place to be. After college, I hope to come back here and have a family here. It’s a special part of the world and I am honored to represent it as Miss Blessing of the Fleet.”
-Originally Published in The Darien News, April 10, 2014