Fifty years ago Shirlee Brown became the only Miss Ramona to win the Fairest of the Fair pageant and serve as the queen of the San Diego County Fair.
Brown has two other notable distinctions. She succeeded Raquel Welch as Fairest of the Fair, and she was also the only redhead ever to win Fairest of the Fair.
Raquel Welch, who ascended to Fairest of the Fair after being selected Miss La Jolla in 1958, won the crown under her maiden name of Tejada. In January 1959, she married James Welch. After presiding over the 1958 county fair, serving as hostess of the Convention and Tourist Bureau as Miss Con-Tour, and successfully competing for the Maid of California crown, her term would end when the 1959 Fairest of the Fair/Miss Con-Tour was selected.
Shirlee Brown lived on what the U.S. Postal Service referred to as Star Route. Her grandfather, William Brown, was a chicken rancher. Her father, Herman Brown, was a chicken rancher before becoming a carpenter. Prior to the 1959 pageant, Shirlee Brown was a member of Ramona’s 4-H chapter and she also raised and trained her own saddle horse.
Brown made her pageant contest debut in the Slick Chick pageant in March 1959. The Slick Chick pageant was sponsored by the San Diego County Farm Bureau’s egg industry production committee and required contestants to have lived or worked on a poultry farm.
Brown was one of 15 contestants for the Slick Chick crown and one of three from Ramona, joining Esther Mix and Vicki Raymond as the local aspirants.
The egg industry production committee had previously crowned Slick Chick queens without a pageant but held the initial contest in 1959. On March 9, Mary Lou Nicholas of El Cajon was crowned 1959 Slick Chick.
Brown then entered the Miss Ramona pageant hosted by the Ramona Junior Chamber of Commerce and was crowned as the local queen, thus giving her entry into the Fairest of the Fair/Miss Con-Tour competition.
Although the town of Ramona is named for the title character in Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, the Ramona Pageant itself is actually in Hemet, closer to where some of the fictional (but in part based on true historical incidents) activity took place.
The Ramona Pageant is a play rather than a contest, other than for auditions, and, while Brown was competing for the Miss Ramona title in mid-Spring, Raquel Welch was traveling to Hemet to play the role of Ramona in the play. The Ramona Pageant would launch Welch’s career as an actress.
Brown was one of 18 competitors at the Fairest of the Fair/Miss Con-Tour pageant, which was held on May 31, 1959, at McDougal Auditorium on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot base. Bill Brothers served as the master of ceremonies. During the pageant Brown was escorted by a 21-year-old Marine recruit, Private Robert D. Logsdon of Kewanee, Ill.
The contest included judging in formal attire and in a bathing suit. The contestants were also judged on brief speeches they gave about their communities.
The candidates were interviewed by Brothers during a non-judging portion of the pageant. Brown noted that she desired to become a psychologist because she liked learning about people.
Twelve judges narrowed the competition to six finalists: Brown, Marilyn Camp of San Diego, Donette Johnson of Chula Vista, Bernice MacDonald of Kearny Mesa, Doria Ann Schuetz of Pacific Beach, and Doree Radici of Lemon Grove. MacDonald was 18. The other contestants were all 17, although Brown, then a senior at Ramona High School, would turn 18 on June 6, six days after the pageant.
The judges gave Brown 262 points for beauty, poise and personality. MacDonald received 247 points to finish second, while Radici earned third with 240 points. The top three finishers consisted of a redhead, a blonde (MacDonald), and a brunette (Radici).
In addition to her red hair, Brown has brown eyes and was measured at 5 foot 6 inches. Her weight was listed as 120 pounds.
Welch crowned Brown as the new Fairest of the Fair/Miss Con-Tour.
Brown presided over what was then called the Southern California Exposition and San Diego County Fair, which that year ran from June 26 to July 5. Brown also represented San Diego County in the Maid of California contest.
After presiding as Fairest of the Fair/Miss Con-Tour for a year, in 1960 Brown turned over her crown to Barbara Wyse, who had qualified for the county pageant as Miss Coronado. The 1960 fair was also notable for being the only year the fair had the official name of Southern California Exposition and San Diego County Fair and Citrus Show. The name returned to Southern California Exposition and San Diego County Fair for 1961, was changed to Del Mar Fair in 1984, and has officially been the San Diego County Fair since 2002.
After a controversy over automatic points deductions, a decision was made that the contestant who lost the 2003 title due to the points deductions would serve as the 2004 Fairest of the Fair.
The pageant has not been held since 2003.