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Beauty with a Purpose

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Gina Marie Tolleson - Miss World 1990

1990

Miss World & Beauty With A Purpose

Gina Marie Tolleson - United States

During a visit to Alderhey Hospital in Liverpool, England, Gina made friends with young cerebral palsy patient Rachel

During the Children's Rally at the international Variety Club's convention in Vancouver. Gina visits a 'lifeliner'. This young girl was brought from Columbia, South America, for successful heart surgery.

Robert Kennedy once wrote, “If we don’t do it for the children, then who will?” This quote summarizes my year as Miss World and the title’s real meaning, “Beauty with a Purpose” is title gives an individual the opportunity of a life time, and as the fortieth Miss World titleholder, I didn’t have any realization of my year ahead. Now, one year later, and after travelling 300,000 miles 250 appearance and autographing over 15,000 photos, I recognise the invaluable opportunity I’ve had and how it will always have an impact on who I am and what I do.

November 6, 1990, will always be remembered as a magical evening for me. Representing the United States, and after overcoming a bout of flu earlier in the competition, I was named the fortieth Miss World and the second winner from American to win this title. I really had no idea what happened to a girl who was named to a title of this calibre. It was breathtaking and it happened so quickly, I was windswept and very exhausted. Sitting there on stage with 200 to 300 photographers screaming your name, “Gina”, “Miss USA”, “Miss World” and taking your picture, is like a fantasy.

My first day as Miss World began as any girl would hope and dream. It was extremely glamorous, awakening to champagne and strawberries and a morning television interview show, “Good Morning, Britain”. After an extensive photo session, I began to think about what I would be doing the rest of the year. I had no idea how giving my year as Miss World would be.

My first official duty was to go to Cardiff, Wales, With Julia Morley, International President of the Miss World Organisation. She and I attended a tribute dinner. I spoke to the group and presented a cheque for approximately $150,000 to the hospital there to begin building a children’s wing. At the time, Variety Club was unknown to me. I didn’t know what it was, but I did know that it was a charity organisation. I was beginning to understand the significance of the organisation. Variety Club became the theme of my year.


My homecoming had a special meaning to me. Returning to the United States on Concorde, I was greeted by all my friends, relatives and many others who shared their warm feelings towards me and that touched me greatly. I had an excellent support system: people who took their time, their heart and their love to organise a celebration for me.

It was a day I’ll never forget. It was filled with laughs, smiles and tears. There were banners and signs, radio and television interviews, gifts that were just incredible and just a wonderful day to remember. I now look back at this day with such warmness. It’s a good pat on the back. It’s like saying “a job well done”.
I was very proud and happy to be home at such an opportune time. Thanksgiving. This time of year is so important for me to be with my family. Even though it was a short visit, it was a good one. It was also a time for Julia to experience a traditional American family holiday.

My first official job abroad was in Belize in Central America in support of Variety Club’s Lifeline Program, we arrived in Belize with doctors from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisana. Our plans were to flagstaff a new program. This was a clinic for children to be examined. Also, we officially donated a paediatric echocardiogram machine to the Belize City Hospital. There I was greeted by a dear friend of mine, Miss Belize, Ysela Antonio Zabanah.

We spent the entire day visiting the facilities and talking with the patients. For me, this visit really affected me in the way I looked at the remainder of my year. There’s much sorrow and heartbreak in the places we visited. However, to see a small child smile at you, to see a small child get excited, to have some hope and for them to laugh and giggle, just because you came over to say “hello” to them, gives you so much gratification and so much warmth. You remember these experiences when you go into these countries. These experiences humble you.

Even though you get many advantages and perks and even though you have many nice things done for you throughout the year, you will get this reality check, knowing that there are children suffering and knowing that you can help. There is a sense of self maturity knowing you helped. This is a non selfish feeling and that’s very nice.


My next visit was to Essen, Germany, for the World Motor Show. Every motor company from around the world participates in the show. I was there to present awards, sign autographs and make appearances with the companies.

A special day happened on March 2nd, St David’s Day in Cardiff, Wales. The Variety Club of Wales held a luncheon in my honour and I also visited the children’s wing of the hospital. I had a wonderful time in Wales. Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Prince William were also there visiting Wales at the same time. We were greeted by daffodils and leeks, their national symbols.

Remaining in Wales for the weekend, I was treated as a dignitary. Escorted by the Lord Mayor and his wife, I toured the country, its castles and rode in the Rolls Royce owned by King George I. This automobile is the official property of Wales.

Returning to London, I attended the star-studded Variety Ball. Many international and nationally recognised celebrities such as Dudley Moore, Roger Moore and Michael Caine attended. The event raised over half a million dollars for the children.

I was next involved in the Alderhey Appeal, a hospital in Liverpool. This was their 75th birthday appeal spearheaded by Paul and Linda McCartney. We were there to visit the hospital and to present a cheque to the hospital on behalf of the Variety Clubs of Great Britain and Liverpool to begin building a wing onto the hospital to house the parents of the sick children. This would give the parents a proper place to sleep instead of sleeping in chairs in the children’s rooms. Recently, I received a letter stating the success of the appeal and hoping that donations would continue. This is a very special appeal to me.

In March, I returned to the United States as the honary spokesperson for the First Fashion Show, a benefit for the American cancer Society in Columbia, South Carolina. This was my second year as the spokesperson for this worthy cause. American Cancer Society Board Member Phil Hayes was primarily responsible for this happening. This event was to bring more awareness for the need for money to do cancer research. I always hope to be involved in this effort. This is such an important event and a chance for continued involvement in community services.

In Des Moines, Iowa, I was involved with a very strong Variety Club Chapter. The then International President of Variety Clubs International, Stanley Reynolds, is a member of the Des Moines Chapter. I participated with several celebrities such as Tony Hatch, Jackie Trent, Emma Samms, Ben Davis and Maureen Arthur in the 14 hour telethon. $2.5 million was raised.

As a broadcast journalism major, it was my first opportunity to do extensive on-camera television work. Participating in this telethon was an affirmation for me to continue my pursuit of a broadcast career. I felt comfortable in front of the camera. The atmosphere of raising money for these children and for the programs that Variety Club patronise was so exciting. It gives you a natural high knowing that what you’re doing really does make a difference. I really knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I know I would always be involved with Variety Club. I knew that the theme of the Miss World title was “Beauty with a Purpose” and that we do it for the children. Even though I would not be Miss World again, god willing, I would return as Gina and I would always be there, as I know most previous Miss Worlds are.

Another telethon in Winnipeg, Canada, in the province of Manitoba, gave me the opportunity to see the incredible things Variety Clubs do for hospitals, day care centres and other children’s affiliated activities. Anything pertaining to the health and welfare of deprived children, Variety Club does. We raised over $1 million. Again, entertainers and other people pulled together to contribute to the telethon’s success.
A national television appearance on “To tell the Truth”, in Los Angeles, California, was a fun experience for me, wearing a unique gown designed by my designer Marie De George of Atlanta, Georgia.

My next appearance was the Variety Club International Convention in Vancouver, Canada with over 60 Variety Club “Tents” worldwide participating. I was a guest for the opening ceremonies to honour the children and to gain awareness of the Miss World title. We hosted a children’s rally where Bea Arthur, Emma Samms, Maureen Arthur and I helped bring attention to children’s causes. I was one of the presenters for the Humanitarian of the Year awards dinner. This award is presented to a person who has dedicated most of their life to humanitarian causes, particularly deprived and handicapped children.


My next appearance was in the Dominican Republic. I was there to have promotional photos taken and for a dignitary visit. The Dominican Republic was the site of Columbus’ New World discovery and the Americas 500 years ago and the photos would be used to promote this anniversary.

During May, I visited South Africa for ten days. I was greeted by a band and the new Miss South Africa. The grand reception was followed by interviews with the press. I was nervous and curious about the country with its much publicised political disruptions. This nervousness was quickly put to rest by the friendliness encountered during this welcoming ceremony.

SABC, the local television station, supplied a crew for their show, Good Morning South Africa telecast each morning. Each day this show featured a segment called the Miss World Diary. This videotaped documentary featured events of the previous day. This public attention brought an awareness for the real purpose of the trip; which was to launch the Children’s Foundations National Fundraising Campaign. This is an organisation which helps many needs of the children in South Africa including education, hunger, orphanages, adoption, better health care and awareness. Various photo shoots were scheduled including the “Cosmopolitan” article and cover, a fashion shoot for the Sunday Times magazine and an article promoting the Children’s Foundation cause. All fees were donated direct to the charity.

Many meaningful activities were scheduled with children beginning with a party for a children’s home in the Johannesburg zoo. These were black children from deprived families in Soweto. Charity galas were scheduled each night. I spoke on behalf of the Children’s Foundation and my work with children around the world to encourage donations to the Foundation.

Travelling to Cape Town, I was captivated by the beauty of the city and its people. After being welcomed by the Cape Town Mayor, I participated in a significant and important visit to the Children’s Red Cross Hospital, home of the world-renowned heart surgeon, Dr Chris Barnard. He welcomed me to the hospital although no longer practising, he assists the hospital with the clinics. I was there to present a cheque to the hospital for $10,000 from the Children’s Foundation.

South Africa is incredibly advanced technologically. I was very impressed with their hospital system. Dr Barnard continues his untiring efforts in his awareness campaign to save children’s lives through preventative health care. Most of the children there are having problems with rheumatism in their heart. If a mother could recognise or have the ability to take a young child to a clinic when they get a sore throat, an ear ache or some other malady, so many of these diseases could be prevented.

During an appearance at a shopping mall, I was honoured by a special performance by the internationally recognised Children’s Choir of South Africa. This group gave an incredible performance. I was greeted by a young marching band, who not only learned the music but the words to my national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner.
Their presentation gave me a tremendous sense of honour and feeling of their respect for my nationality. It really touched me knowing that these young people had taken the time to learn this for me. It was a special moment for me and something I’ll never forget. When a person or group acknowledges your nationality with pride and respect when you’re travelling, it makes you feel very proud and, at that moment I did.

The following day we departed to Bloemfontein, on the west side of South Africa. I compare this to the Midwest section of the US. There we were guests of Boet Trowskie, a famous movie producer in South Africa, responsible for The Gods Must Be Crazy and other film projects. At a dinner in his home honouring Julia and myself, an auction was held and a life-size version of the Cosmopolitan cover photo went for $5000 as a donation to the Children’s Foundation.


Although this part of South Africa reminded me of the Midwest both in infrastructure and geographically, the people reminded me of the people in my home town of Spartanburg, South Carolina. They were very down-to-earth, very giving and very loving people. Thank you, Mr Trowskie for your contribution.

This was followed by a visit to the Mala Mala private game reserve, which is rated as one of the top ten resorts in the world. Margaret Thatcher was visiting the reserve just prior to my arrival. This was a chance to experience the true Africa. Many people told me that only after visiting a reserve could you truly understand the essence of Africa. And I did. It was truly breathtaking. It is so comforting to know that there is a place in the world where it is not overcrowded and that these animals are free to roam and to live as they have done for thousands and thousands of years. We also did a fashion shoot for an Afrikaans-speaking magazine. The magazine donated the fee for the shoot the Children’s Foundation.

Durban was our next destination. Located on the east coast of South Africa, a large segment of the population is Indian. There we spoke to a ladies luncheon club called the Mahursani’s Ladies One Hundred Club. This speech addressed the problems of the children in South Africa and our purpose for the visit.
After lunch we visited the Lake Haven Children’s Home, an inner-city orphanage.

No orphanage, no hospital, no particular visit is the same. But I have to say, it doesn’t matter what language the child speaks, it doesn’t matter if she has blond hair or black hair, or if she has black skin, white skin or Indian skin, children are children. It seems that no matter where I go, how bad the conditions are, there is always a smile that will always warm your heart. They showed me where they live, their hobbies and where they ate. They were very proud to show me their facility and I was proud to become friends with them. I’ve received many letters from them and I’m continuing my correspondence with them. The 10 day visit raised $1 million for the Children’s Foundation. I was very proud to be part of this trip.

My next visit was to Poland. As an American I had some preconceived views of Eastern Europe, so I was very excited about going into Warsaw and seeing firsthand the changes that are taking pace. Julia is very familiar with Poland and has been going there for several years. To her, the changes were vast. Our first night we met with the Miss Poland sponsors and staff. The following day we visited a beautiful children’s home and church outside Warsaw, in the country. Approximately 100 mentally handicapped and Downs Syndrome girls lived in this house. They were being taken care of by six or seven nuns who were incredible. They were very co-operative and disciplined people, who made it as comfortable as possible for these girls.


It seems that no matter where I go and visit with children in very similar conditions, they are always very proud to show me around. They sang a special song for us. They made a special plea to carry their message around the world to help raise money for them to build a new facility. And I have carried out their request.


I was there to crown the new Miss Poland and to experience another country’s version of beauty pageants. The next day was International Children’s Day at the huge arena where the profits from the Miss Poland pageant were used at their best. The day was filled with entertainment and awards. The children I had visited the day before were brought in to participate.

Central America was my next stop, visiting three countries in eight days. My first stop was Belize. I was very excited to return to Belize. This stop was again sponsored by the Belize bank.

We visited the St Joseph Home where I’d like to recognise Miss Mary and a little girl named Keisha. Miss Mary was the matron of the house. This orphanage housed 20 to 30 children. These children took me on a tour of their sleeping quarters, their playground, their kitchen and the living room, equipped with a small television, where they learned to read.

Keisha made a strong impression on me. I really connected with Keisha. A young, beautiful girl about 13 years old, Keisha has so much potential to do something with her life, if given the opportunity. Julia suggested we invite her as our special guest to the Fashion Show we were doing that evening. When this invitation was mentioned to her, she absolutely lit up. Miss Mary nodded her approval and Keisha was thrilled.


All proceeds from this event sponsored children who were in need of heart surgery in the US. About $10,000 was raised.


We visited El Salvador as the guests of Channel 2, the sponsors of Miss El Salvador. Our purpose was to promote the “Beauty with a Purpose” theme. We visited the Benjamin Bloom Hospital and Hogar dos Ninos, an orphanage and school, to express our continued support both personally and monetarily.

The Benjamin Bloom Hospital was destroyed in the 1986 earthquake and efforts have been spent on the rebuilding program. The Miss World Organisation has focused much attention on this rebuilding process, including staging a fashion show featuring many previous Miss Worlds who paid all their own expenses to raise the last part of the funds required to build a temporary children’s hospital.

Visits to some of these hospitals can be so saddening yet so strengthening. You see the people that are so involved in caring for these children in such deplorable conditions; such as new born babies in orange crates with light bulbs used as warming devices. It gives you a sense of inspiration and a sense of strength to know that you’re doing something that could have a lasting effect on them. I made a very strong connection with the people in El Salvador and with their struggle. This trip made me very aware of the needs of Central America.

Hogar dos Ninos is managed by some very inspirational nuns. They take care of the children teaching them to become selfreliant. They teach the children employable skills such as cooking, also cleaning or tailoring for the boys and sewing for the girls. They are taught to take care of the young babies, gaining the skills needed to become nurses in hospitals. The boys are taught woodworking skills and they actually build their own beds. Even though the home is the recipient of much aid from the rest of the world, more is needed.

In Guatemala, “the land of the eternal spring”, we were received by many government officials. My first impression was that God had painted the country green. It was a luscious landscape.

Our hosts made a sincere effort to demonstrate their genuine concern for health care issues in their country. Howard Turner, our host and director of the Miss Guatemala pageant, was fantastic in showing us his country and in allowing us the opportunity to experience his culture. We also met with Dr Morales. He is involved with the paediatric foundation in Guatemala and is one of the few surgeons who can perform kidney surgery in that country. He is not only a great man, but a courageous man, working under very adverse conditions.

Saving the best for last, I’d like to acknowledge my love and friendship for the Morleys’ they welcomed me into their home and family with much fervour. Julia and I have shared many laughs and tears during the year. It was an honour to have accompanied such a strong and giving lady who dedicates her life to “our children”. Through her extensive knowledge acquired through her travels I was exposed to a vast collection of culture and emotions. That is something I can never replace in my life and my gratitude to Julia is unending.

This was a very important year for me personally. Not only did I grow as a person I became aware of my worldwide community. As an American, you’re caught up in your own world so much, you don’t realise what else is happening. This title gave me a broader perspective on world and social issues and it made me realise how blessed we are.

Special Features

Each week, BWP will present a new in-depth report on one of the many charity projects worldwide that has benefitted from the work of Julia Morley and the support of Beauty with a Purpose. Keep watching this space for more details on these special features.

  

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