Can a pet save a life?
Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley and Brewster share their story
Based on that feeling and the actions of our little adopted rescue dog, Brewster, I called my surgeon.
Dreaming of being a princess begins at an early age for many young females. Tiaras and glass slippers are available in sizes that fit ages as young as two years old. Pink fancy dresses set the fantasy in motion of one day wearing a real crown and marrying Prince Charming. And though, many will grow up and never realize the Cinderella story, for one young woman from Brandon, Mississippi the dream came true.
Donning a gown of fairy princess quality and a bracelet that contained an encased mustard seed, given to her by a Sunday school teacher, Mary Ann Mobley was crowned Miss America of 1959—an event that kicked off a flurry of activity and included movie deals, best actor awards, TV spots, and multi philanthropic causes around the globe.
While interviewing Mobley, I found it easy to understand how she won the Miss America title and enjoyed future success. She is what I dub a “true southern lady.” She exudes kindness, politeness, and hospitality. She is a lady who despite having met many prestigious people along the way gives credit to her mother and particularly her grandmother, Mary Stewart Farish, for being her greatest influence. “She lived to be one hundred years old and was the sweetest, dearest, most positive person I have known,” says Mobley. “People of all ages loved her. She taught me to love life and love people, and that it was okay to dream”.
Mobley obviously heeded her grandmother’s advice when she dreamed big enough to journey to Atlantic City back in 1959 and set into motion a series of events that changed her life forever. From the moment she set foot on stage in Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey and belted out “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” she was destined to become one of the most popular and most successful Miss America’s. She is probably the only Miss America ever to achieve success in film, television, Broadway, personal appearances, and as a documentary filmmaker.
“It sounds like a strange story,” Mobley laughs, “But I have read and seen many stories about pets sensing when their owners are in trouble.”
During her movie career, Mobley was the envy of many teen girls when she played opposite Elvis Presley in Harum Scarum and Girl Happy. Those roles landed her a five-year contract with MGM studios and numerous acting awards. Later she would appear in popular TV shows with more than one hundred guest appearances to her credit. She frequently appeared on the Miss America telecasts, even co-hosting with husband Gary Collins and helping him fill twelve long minutes on live TV when the judges could not reach a decision.
However, her most gratifying work was not movie roles and entertainment but documentaries she has filmed in third world countries that underscore the plight of millions of children who are helpless victims of war and deprivations. Mobley was the only woman in a five-man film team to enter communist Cambodia. “The trip was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life,” she says. She has seen first-hand the devastation in these countries and feels a special personal commitment to help the underprivileged. Mobley returns to these countries frequently to continue her work in filming documentaries.
She donates time, money, and effort to several worthwhile causes including the March of Dimes and The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She also serves on the National Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. By Presidential appointment, she served two terms on the National Council on Disability. Mobley is a member of SHARE, Inc., a Los Angeles-based women’s organization that has raised over six million dollars for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation for the Mentally Retarded. In her home state of Mississippi, she has helped raise funds for the Willowood Foundation, which provides homes for young adults with mental and physical learning disabilities. One of the homes is called the Mary Ann Mobley/Gary Collins Group Home. She is especially proud of The Mary Ann Mobley Pediatric Wing at the-Rankin General Hospital in her hometown of Brandon. With her first $2,500 check as an entertainer, she bought chimes for the Brandon Methodist Church. The bells still toll there today.
Mobley is married to talk show host Gary Collins. They have a daughter, Mary Clancy Collins (named for her great-grandfather William Clancy Farish). Clancy is senior vice president of Television drama at Warner Brothers Studio in Hollywood, California. Mobley is proud to say that she has kept the same husband, the same telephone number, and same address for forty-two years.
That was and is the current life of Mary Ann Mobley with one exception. Despite the glamour, the success, and the fame, she is currently writing another chapter in her life that she is is willing to share with the world.
In 2005, Mobley was diagnosed with a tumor in her left breast, which required what she referred to as a simple ‘lumpectomy’. But it served as notice that she would require six-month checkups with her surgeon and oncologist. However, in March of 2009 she started to feel that something wasn’t right. “I know it sounds strange to say that I knew something was going on…something was wrong,
even though I was not due for my six month check up,” recalls Mobley. Based on that feeling and the actions of our little adopted rescue dog, Brewster, short for Benjamin Brewster Collins, I called my surgeon and set up an appointment to go in early.”
Brewster’s strange behavior added to my conviction that something was indeed wrong. He was following me around and anxiously watching me; he kept pawing at my right breast when we sat down together as though he was trying to tell me something.
“Brewster’s strange behavior added to my conviction that something was indeed wrong. He was following me around and anxiously watching me; he kept pawing at my right breast when we sat down together as though he was trying to tell me something. I called my doctor and said even though I can’t feel any lump; I believe I need to come in. My surgeon, Dr Armando Giuliano, could find nothing and nothing showed up in the mammography, but I will never forget when he looked me in the face and said - ‘you know your body better than anyone else so even though we can’t find anything, I want you to have an MRI’. The MRI did indeed reveal cancer.”
Surgery was then required, which resulted in the removal of some lymph nodes and a plan to undergo several weeks of radiation. However, days later, when the final pathology report was completed, Mobley’s doctor called her back for more extensive surgery that resulted in the removal of twenty-four lymph nodes and required six months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation treatment for what turned out to be stage III breast cancer.
Now in 2010, Mobley is in remission. She deals with some complications left by the disease but is thankful to be alive and especially thankful to Brewster for his intuitiveness and persistence.
“It sounds like a strange story,” Mobley laughs, “But I have read and seen many stories about pets sensing when their owners are in trouble.” (See related pet story on page 60 by Dr. John Musico).
In addition to Brewster, the Collins family acquired another rescue dog, which they named Bailey, and he came into their lives in the middle of Mobley’s chemo treatments to assist Brewster in his duties of getting her well. But they have always been dog lovers. In the past they have owned three labs, two golden’s that were born in CA and one chocolate that was born in Mississippi. Mobley related how one day Trouble, the Mississippi lab, began acting very strangely, restless, and such. Trouble seemed to sense that trouble was on the horizon. Sure enough, their home was rocked by an earthquake. The 1994 quake had a magnitude of 6.7, but the ground acceleration was one of the highest ever instrumentally recorded in an urban area in North America. Ironically, the Mississippi born pup sensed the quake. Could it be that the California dogs were adverse to periodic and routine tremors that go undetected to humans? Regardless, it appears that as long as Brewster and Bailey remain in the Collins household, the family is in good hands or rather paws.
Mary Ann Mobley was a delight to interview, and I have to say it again…a true southern lady. We wish her well with her continued battle with cancer.
She followed the advice of her grandmother and allowed herself to dream, a dream that has led to a Cinderella story…from a small town (population 2500)… to fame, success, a story-book marriage, family, and a happy ending…thanks to a furry little friend whose only dream is finding a king-sized bone.
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"Can a pet save a life?
Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley and Brewster share their story"
Patricia Kirby brings several years of journalism, editing, and publishing experience to Radius magazine. She is a published writer and former co-editor of Hoosier Outdoor magazine, with a distribution throughout the mid-west. Patricia is also a form...