Patricia Person was thumbing around on the internet one day when she came across a headline that read “Ms. Senior Arizona.” “I was thinking,” Person recalls, “Wow, what is that about?” 

The 64-year-old’s curiosity prompted her to do a little research into the competition. And after getting a grasp on the pageant’s requirements, she felt her heart telling her to enter. It was a feeling that intensified after Person discovered that an African American woman had never won. “It became, for me, a journey to try to achieve this, and win this crown,” Person tells EBONY. “I thought it would be great to be the first African American to win.”

On Monday, August 21, the Los Angeles native did just that. Channeling the spirit of Pilot Bessie Coleman in a dramatization for the talent portion of the competition, Person beat out 16 other entrants to solidify her place as the first African American Ms. Senior Arizona in the competition’s 31-year history. Now, the certified yoga instructor is using her pageant platform to advocate for dignity in elder care and amplify the importance of health and wellness. Through the CAMEO Foundation, the pageant’s host, Person magnifies that message at events and venues throughout the state and showcases her talents along with the other winners. Proceeds go to victims of domestic violence.

“My philosophy in life is living till you die,” Person, an original Soul Train dancer, says. “So I just want to remind people that when you are over 60 years old, you don't just sit down and wait to die. I look at it as a time to do more.” 

Person embraces this motto not only for herself, but also for the men and women she cares for regularly as an activity coordinator at a senior assisted living home in Fountain Hills, Arizona. “I always encourage people to do all the things that they want to do,” says Person, “I see this pageant as a way to inspire other people to get out there and do something else.” 

During Person’s reign, she’s intent on launching and promoting a program for seniors, reminiscent of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “The biggest complaint that I hear from them is that their kids don't come see them or they're lonely,” Person shares. “So personally, I visit as many as I can and bring them things or play games with them.”  

After spending 38 years at Boeing, Person, who retired from the company two-and-a-half years ago, says the shift from corporate America to elder care opened her eyes to what goes on as people age. “So many of these men and women were very prominent. They were doctors and lawyers and teachers and professors and spokespeople,” Person shares. “And now they're at this point that they really don't care about money, they don't care about pain, they don't care about anything, but they do not want to be sad and alone.”

As Person continues to share her philosophy of life and bring awareness to such an important cause, she’s also running a successful catering company and preparing for her next pageant. In September, the reigning Ms. Senior Arizona will compete against other national winners in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “I'm just very excited about the whole thing,” Person says. Though not everybody is happy to have a Black woman holding the title, Person is concentrating on the positive. “I just want to really inspire people to take care of themselves,” she says. “Do the small, simple things that will give you longevity in your life.”