Sherry Lowe is a classy woman. She has a firm handshake, walks tall and carries herself with confidence. Her blonde hair is perfectly coiffed and fashionable glasses frame her face.
Her demeanor and easygoing smile hints at time spent 50 years ago, training and preparing for an event that shaped the course of her life: winning the Miss Bangor Pageant of 1964. Lowe has called many places home since living in Bangor during what may be the city’s most gilded age, but she fondly remembers the bustling city life Bangor used to boast with its many theaters, dances and a larger-than-life fair.
The oldest of four girls born to a single mother who worked multiple jobs to keep them fed and clothed, and an absentee father, her story is one of grit and determination.
From humble beginnings
When Lowe was about 10-years-old, the family went to join her father in Oklahoma. When things didn’t work out, her mother gathered the girls, a large duffle bag with the word “Maine” written across the front and they hitchhiked all the way back to Bangor.
“I thought it was an adventure,” Lowe said. “That was just my life, and it was crazy — but it was my life.”
As she became older, Lowe took on the mothering role for her younger sisters, cooking and keeping their lives as orderly as possible. But it wasn’t until the four girls went to live with the nuns at St. Michael’s orphanage that her life had some semblance of structure, learning lessons Lowe carried into adulthood. To this day, she still makes beds with square, hospital-style cornered sheets, a requirement when she lived with the nuns.
Lowe fell in love with the Catholic religion. It provided something she desperately had been seeking.
“I fell in love with Catholicism,” she said. “I had a need for stability and order in my life.”
The sisters attended school at St. Mary’s, and eventually Lowe secured a scholarship at John Bapst for high school, where she first heard about the pageant.
“I didn’t think I had a chance, but I didn’t care. I thought it would be fun,” she said, adding that many of the girls competing at the time were from wealthy families and often were much more popular than she was.
What it takes
However, fellow Bangor resident Victoria Greeley knew Lowe had it in her, not only to compete but to succeed. She just needed a little polishing, and Greeley, 11 years Lowe’s senior and her mother figure at the time, was up for the task.
Together, the pair traveled as near as Greeley’s mother’s closet and as far as Boston to find formal wear that would compliment Lowe’s figure and wow judges.
“It took her a little while to realize she had a lot going for herself,” Greeley said of Lowe. “Now, I think she has become so well-rounded. She’s very knowledgeable about politics, art, music.”
Greeley spent hours trying to teach Lowe how to sing and even found a radio studio willing to donate space for them to practice. But it wasn’t meant to be and neither was winning — at least at first.
It took three tries for Lowe to win the Miss Bangor title and accompanying scholarship. She spent the time learning everything, from how to style her hair to proper dinner etiquette.
“I was not sophisticated at all,” Lowe said. “I didn’t know what fork to use; I just knew to use a fork. I learned how to talk, I learned how to walk and greet people.”
In the meantime, she broke off three engagements at the prompting of Greeley and knowing she couldn’t compete in Miss Maine as a married woman that if she won.
“I wanted to go to Miss Maine that bad that I said to myself, ‘I don’t love him that much,’” Lowe said.
Finally, in 1964, she was crowned Miss Bangor, a moment that became the impetus for a life of adventure and intrigue with a dash of peace activism.
The greatest adventure
After winning the title, Lowe spent a year attending events representing Bangor. She helped christen an air force plane and worked as a “weather girl” for WLBZ. It was a time when seeing women on television was rare, and she relished in her notoriety.
“Everybody knew me. … How could life be anymore exciting?” she said.
She went on to star in the television show “Weird,” a live commercial-style broadcast that was a hit among fraternities and businessmen alike.
After her time on the show, Lowe went on to work as a stewardess for United Airlines and traveled the world. But, most importantly to her, while based in Chicago, she met the man who didn’t need to compete against pageants to win her heart — her now-husband, John Lowe, a speech pathologist. The pair was engaged just months after two nearly disastrous dates and a number of great ones.
Lowe went to college when she was 43-years-old, earned her nursing degree and went on to work at a hospital near their home in Illinois.
The happy couple had two sons, John and Scott, who grew into successful men and make Lowe proud everyday. She has dozens of photos of her children on her smartphone, happy to show them off and tell of their successes and tenacity — something they probably learned from their mother, though she wouldn’t admit to it.
Aside from her children, Lowe has one lasting accomplishment — her participation in the social peace project known as “The Ribbon.”
“I was a mad woman once I got involved,” she said. “I would be up from 5 a.m. until midnight working on it.”
The project involved sewing together handcrafted panels created around the theme “Celebration of Life — What I Cannot Bear to Think of As Lost Forever in a Nuclear War.” More than 25,000 panels were received — so many that they not only wrapped around the Pentagon, which was the original plan, but across the Potomac River, stretching for 15 miles through Washington, D.C.
Several panels are in museums or with dignitaries from around the world, but at least 300 are in Lowe’s basement.
“That project was the most exciting part of my life, besides my family,” Lowe said.
A comfortable life
The Miss Bangor pageant only lasted a few more years after Lowe’s crowning, but women from the Pine Tree State still compete at the Miss Maine competition every year for the chance to represent the state at the Miss America pageant.
According to its website, several local pageants are starting back up, including one for women from Washington County and all towns bordering Canada and another in Lincoln Lakes.
“It would be a fantastic thing to start up again,” Greeley said. “We have so many beautiful young women here in Maine, and it really is such a good thing.”
Lowe isn’t involved in the pageant circle any longer. Her crown went missing after years of relocating around the country. But she is retired and happy living life as a grandmother of three and is very close with her sons — the eldest a CEO of a boutique ice cream company based in Ohio and the second working on his MBA in renewable resources.
Though not rich, she and her husband have a comfortable life.
She occasionally has returned to the spotlight, the subject of a few newspaper articles, one in particular about her collection of 2,000 smiling suns. Sitting at a table at The Sea Dog recently, she wore sun earrings, carried a smiling sun journal and a silver charm bracelet full of suns adorned her wrist.
“I love pictures of people smiling. I just love happy people, and I think people need to smile more,” she said when asked what draws her to the smiling sun images.
When she talks about her time as Miss Bangor, Lowe herself smiles, her eyes light up and the conversation and laughter flows freely. She turned 70 this weekend surrounded by friends and extended family, still young at heart and hoping her next few years will remain as exciting as those that came before.