Joan McDonald deserves our congratulations – tonight she graduates from what she describes as “a crash course in the ‘University of Life’.”
A course which has given her a new and clearer insight into people; brought her a treasure trove of friends from around the world; advanced her modeling career – and given her many a happy thrill.
But most of all, a course which has heightened her awareness of what it means to be a Jamaican – and the sobering responsibility that goes with representing your country abroad.
And as she crowns Miss Jamaica World 1979 this evening, Joan deserves a special applause, for she is graduating with flying colours!
The new Queen, she feels, has a major task ahead of her: “She has a lot to do, but first of all, she must always bear in mind ‘I represent Jamaica’. I found when I was abroad, I was bombarded with so many political questions. They wanted to talk about all the conflicts – I think you should try and evade this, try and bring out the best in Jamaica”.
“Then, in addition to things like grooming yourself properly and organizing your clothes so you will look your best every day of the week, you have to learn to take criticism – there will be a lot of it. You have to learn to take criticism with a smile, no matter what form it comes in. Otherwise, you’ll get so depressed, you’ll be tempted to shut yourself in.”
And while you’re smiling, Joan adds, “You must learn to please yourself – and not please 1.5 million people!”
In pleasing herself, Joan has done a good job of pleasing the rest of us – barring, of course, those who are against beauty contests in principle. Her answer to this controversy is simple: “To each his own; If you don’t like it, keep away from it – but don’t condemn it!”
The most thrilling experience of her reign, Joan tells us, was the Miss World Contest in London. Looking back today, she still feels this was the real climax of the year – even though it came at the very beginning.
“The girls were so pretty,” she remembers, I wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’ Being part of the show – and I was very well supported – and the various places we visited: lunch at the House of Commons, two days in Jersey and Ireland, meeting the press – I never felt so happy before!
“And the girls were so nice, I met a lot of very good friends I still correspond with now. All those little things made it so much for me!”
The rest of the year was filled with social functions, modeling assignments and other promotional work – and of course, lots of traveling.
She was off to Berlin with the Jamaican contingent to the International Tourist Board’s exposition there, and to New York and Chicago where she visited the famous Playboy Mansion to promote Appleton rum on the US market. Jamaica did well on both occasions, she feels, and for her they were fun experiences.
Then of course, there was the publicity. As well as local press interviews here and in the countries she visited, she has been featured in internationally recognized magazines like Ebony, African Woman (published out of London), and the latest edition of Jet.
And she’s learned to take the publicity in her stride: “If you are beauty queen, you must expect people to want to know exactly where your head is at . . . especially Jamaicans away from home. So many Jamaicans came to see me when I was abroad, and I felt very happy to say I was Miss Jamaica.”
Most recently, Joan spent two weeks teaching dancing exercises at Negril Beach Village and doing promotional work for the hotel – an experience which, incidentally, showed her how much the promotional work in Berlin last year was paying off, judging by the number of German tourists among the European and US visitors now thronging Negril.
What does Joan plan to do after handing over the crown?
For one thing, she’ll continue with her modeling, and perhaps take it to a higher level. One of her main “loves”, she’s been on the catwalk (and later in front of the camera) since the early 70s, with assignments ranging from the early tea party do’s to more “prestige” jobs as a member of MK Careers Modeling Agency.
And then – “Give me a year and couple of months, perhaps” – she’ll be launching her own dance studio, as soon as she’s properly organized and has enough funds. She first thought she could start this using her Miss Jamaica World prize money ($1,500), but soon realized this just wasn’t enough particularly as she’s aiming for quality, “not just a shilly – shally thing to try and make money.”
She’ll cater to both children and adults, teaching “a mix of our own Jamaican cultural aspects in dance – pocomania, cumina – and the basic techniques you need to know before moving off into other things such as free form dance. And after a time I want to get my own students to choreograph themselves, to bring out what is in them.”
Joan has been a dance enthusiast ever since, as a Grantham College schoolgirl, she started classes at the Institute junior Centre at age 13. Now 23, she’s still a part-time student at the School of Dance (into which the Junior Centre classes evolved).
What thrills her most of all at present, she adds, is the unprecedented number of youth and community groups putting on performances all over the island: “It shows that our people are not just depending on the NDTC to come up with a season every year – and it make us so aware of our culture.”
Dance has also made her aware of her own self, she says: “I think dancing has a lot to do with the person I am now – my personality, my poise, the way I carry myself. It was a very important part of my education – it’s not just the lessons you do that matter in school…”
What else has gone into making up the person that Joan is today?
Experiences such as her two-year National Youth Service stint at Bellevue Hospital – something she wouldn’t have missed for the world, which took her into the occupational therapy section where she not only felt she was giving a valuable service, but gaining experience. And a spell as dance teacher at Wolmer’s girls School.
Then there’s her ceramic work, which she does “for my own aesthetic pleasure”. Jamaica School of Art graduate and friend Rafa Alleyne taught her the basic four years ago, and her work in this field is no a regular part of her day.
Underpinning it all is Joan’s personal “I can do it” philosophy with which she meets any new challenge.
“I’m a very strong and determined person,” she and also my mother did a lot to contribute to this and also my boyfriend (no she won’t say anything more about him) – and just me, I guess. I’ve always, even from the age of 16, 17, been friends with people who were much older than me, and I guess I learned a lot from them.
Perhaps Joan’s most significant long-term goal is what she describes as a yearning to be a person on whom people can call when they are in problems – a sort of modern-day Florence Nightengale. Perhaps when I’m older I’ll get this from my children.”
“Meanwhile, she adds, “Accept me as I am – because I think I am a very true and genuine person, and I can be approached. And I like people – the older ones for their maturity and ideas and discipline, and the young ones for their creativity.
Source: 1979 Miss Jamaica World Souvenir Magazine