Miss West Virginia USA Charisse Haislop of Parkersburg kept Taylor Jones close to her heart during the Miss USA pageant last Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.
Haislop received a cross pendant from a necklace Jones always wore, from Jones' mother, Tammy. Haislop's mother, Karla, sewed the pendant inside Charisse's pageant gown near her heart in memory of Taylor.
Haislop and Taylor Jones, both graduates of Parkersburg High School and West Virginia University, were best friends. Jones was a big supporter of Haislop in her quest to become Miss USA.
Haislop was devastated when Jones, 27, of Vienna passed away on May 13 at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Haislop, 24, had visited with Jones in the Texas hospital before the pageant. Jones had seen Haislop's gown and planned to attend the Miss USA pageant in Louisiana.
"Taylor was a selfless friend. There was not a better friend," Haislop told me this week. "She was always happy for me."
Pageant contestants were asked to interview their heroes. Haislop said she wanted Jones to get recognized at the pageant for being a great friend and supporting her journey.
A video of Jones speaking from her hospital room, followed by Haislop's tribute to her best friend, was shown during the NBC telecast on Sunday night. "I was being her cheerleader," Haislop said of her friend.
Miss USA contestants cried during the Jones episode, Haislop said.
Haislop said she knew she had to maintain her composure during the pageant after Jones' death. "She would not have wanted me to quit," Haislop said.
Haislop said she had a "blast" during the Miss USA pageant. During their two weeks in Baton Rouge, the contestants were treated "royally," she said. She compared the warm hospitality of Louisiana residents to that found in West Virginia.
Haislop said she was "savoring the moment" of winning the Miss West Virginia USA title and competing in the national pageant-after not winning the state title in three previous attempts.
"I want to fully embrace the journey," she said. "It took me a long time to win."
Forty friends and family members, including her parents Ed and Karla Haislop, attended the nationally televised pageant.
And her "guardian angel" looked after her at the pageant, she said.
Haislop is looking forward to representing West Virginia in appearances around the state during the next several months and spending time with her family in Parkersburg.
She believes the pageant experience will open doors for her in the business world. Her career goal is to become a physician's assistant.
Haislop said she was "flattered" but declined an invitation to appear on "The Bachelor" television show. She has signed with a modeling agency in New York City but doesn't see herself living in "The Big Apple" to pursue this career path.
"I am a business person," said Haislop, a WVU graduate with a degree in exercise physiology (pre-med).
The excitement continues for Parkersburg native Michael Enoch in China. The Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China's largest city with 23 million people, was recently named "China's Most Dynamic Large Scale Performance Venue of 2013." Enoch, a 1972 graduate of Parkersburg High School, is general manager of the six-level Mercedes-Benz Arena. The award was conferred by the Dao Strategy Research Center, which focuses on the performing arts industry in China. In 2013, the Mercedes-Benz Arena contributed 148 performances in front of 641,000 people, the Dao center said. The Rolling Stones, Justin Bieber, Metallica, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars have performed at the 18,000-seat arena in the past year. "The Taylor Swift show (May 30) was amazing; it was the fastest-selling western show we have ever done! Sold out in five minutes," Enoch wrote in an email. Enoch said Swift was very attentive to her fans at the meet-and-greet before the show, which was primarily attended by Chinese teenage girls with their parents or by themselves. "It was a great experience and one of the highlights of my experience in China so far," said Enoch, who spoke to Swift backstage before the show.
Contact Paul LaPann at email@example.com