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Debra Sue Maffett: Miss America 1983

By LOUIS TOSCANO, United Press International

America's new sweetheart is a tall, blonde Texan who helped her family build a house, worked full-time in a bakery to pay for a college education, then headed west to California to make it in show business.

Debra Sue Maffett, a brainy, breezy and confident 25-year-old singer, captured the coveted crown at the 1982 Miss America Pageant Saturday, capping a four-year quest filled with frustration and disappointment.

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Fair and blue-eyed with shoulder-length, golden tresses, Miss Maffett is 5-foot-7, weighs 115 pounds and measures 35-22-35.

About the only feature unusual by pageant standards is her waist size, a bit small even for beauty queens.

Her life story is practically the quintessential Miss America tale.

The daughter of a Navy man, Miss Maffett was born in Pittsburgh, Kan., -- also the hometown of Debbie Bryant, Miss America 1966 -- on Nov. 9, 1956. Her family moved to Corpus Christi, Tex. when she was 5.

A year later, the family went on to Houston where her father, Ronald, now a school teacher, and her mother, Nonie, raised Debbie and four other children.

Hard-pressed to make ends meet, her parents decided to build their own house in Cut-n-Shoot, a town of 750 people 60 miles outside Houston.

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'Starting in the fourth grade, every day after school and on weekends, we would all drive out to Cut-n-Shoot and work on the house,' Miss Maffett said. 'We cleared the land and built a two-story, five-bedroom place.'

The Maffetts finally moved in 1972 and Debbie, a bugle-playing drum majorette, graduated from Waltrip High School in 1975.

'My parents told me then, 'You're on your own,'' she said. 'They said I'd always have a home to go to, a bed and a roof over my head, but if I wanted more, I'd have to go get it myself.'

So Miss Maffett, anxious to learn 'just about anything,' began attending North Harris County College part-time, paying for her classes by working full-time at Weingarten's Bakery. A year later, she transferred to Sam Houston State College and, still working at the bakery, enrolled in a wide range of courses.

'I knew there was more I wanted to know,' Miss Maffett said. 'So I took it all, history, politics, psychology -- you name it.'

Beauty pageants, big business in Texas and a way for a young girl to pay for an education, first entered her life at 21. Urged on by friends, she entered a local contest and won a scholarship that enabled her to transfer to Lamar University in Beaumont.

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That first pageant also started a frustrating series of poor showings. While in college, she made three tries to win the Miss Texas pageant, finishing in the top 10 in 1978, third runner-up in 1979 and fourth runner-up in 1980.

Then 24, 'too old' for pageants, and a recent college graduate with a general studies degree, Miss Maffett abandoned contests in favor of a career.

After a 3-month tour of Europe, singing country songs to promote Texas tourism, she moved to Anaheim, Calif., in 1981 to become a professional singer and talk show host while modeling and playing small roles on soap operas like the 'The Young and the Restless' and 'The Days of Our Lives.'

But a friend talked her into 'entering just one more pageant.' She won the Miss California title and, finally, the Miss America crown.

Miss Maffett, who says she dates several men 'but no one seriously,' is a science fiction addict, enjoys water skiing and roller skating, and is a member of the National Man Watcher's Association, which leads her to give 'Well Worth Watching Awards' to 'good-looking men with great personalities.'

Among her heroes are U.N. Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and broadcasting enterpreneur Ted Turner.

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Miss America 1983 looks forward to her year on the road, which should net her more than $100,000, but she also is eager to get on with her life and insists the glare of public attention won't change her.

'I'm still just Debbie and I'll still be just Debbie when it's over,' she said. 'I'd like to have a talk show, be a wife and mother, there's so much I want to do. I know that there is life after Miss America, and I can't wait.'

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