Third Michigander to be crowned Miss America dies at 74
OAKLAND COUNTY, MI — Pamela Eldred-Robbins, who represented Michigan State as the crowned Miss America in 1970, has died at the age of 74.
Eldred-Robbins, originally from West Bloomfield, was a sassy, strong-willed woman who dedicated her life to service and championed the special needs community as Miss America 1970, her daughter Hilary Levey Friedman told MLive.
The 74-year-old man died on Tuesday July 12 of kidney failure after spending a week in palliative care. The family held a memorial service Wednesday at Lynch & Sons Funeral Home in Clawson, Oakland County.
“Until the end of her life, Pam enjoyed the culinary delights of Michigan and bought jewelry at Tapper’s,” Levey Friedman wrote in her mother’s obituary. “Pam’s life ended the way she lived it: on her own terms. She was sassy, strong-willed, and seriously beautiful.
Eldred-Robbins didn’t enter the pageantry world until she was 20 due to an injury that forced her to stop doing ballet full-time. A talented dancer, Eldred-Robbins was director of the Detroit City Ballet at the age of 14 and trained at the American Ballet Theater in New York.
She ended her dancing career and began modeling at Patricia Stevens Finishing School, “a decision that would change the course of her life”, according to her obituary.
After performing at the 1968 Detroit Auto Show, Eldred-Robbins was recruited to compete in the 1968 Miss Detroit pageant, where she won the crown. She was again crowned Miss Detroit the following year, then won the Miss Michigan Pageant in 1969 and was eventually named Miss Michigan 1970.
Eldred-Robbins was the third of five Michigan women to be crowned Miss America. She was the first ballet dancer to become Miss America.
During his reign, Eldred-Robbins made two tours of Vietnam through the United Service Organization (USO), which were a “highlight of his life”, according to his obituary. She was rewarded for showing courage under fire when enemy forces caused evacuations during a live performance.
Levey Friedman said his mother represented “a different time” in American history, when women were just beginning to think differently about what they could achieve in life.
It was during the 1970s that Miss America contestants began to see the pageant as a successful way to gain a good education and achieve their professional goals, according to the Miss America website.
As Miss America 1970, Eldred-Robbins helped launch the pageant into a new era, laying the foundation for the modern Miss America pageant that today is rooted in service and elevating women for their brains, not only for their beauty.
“Those times were a time of transition in our country,” Levey Friedman said of his mother’s reign as Miss America. “She was crowned in September 1969, so there was a lot of uproar not only about women’s rights, but also about civil rights. We had just landed on the moon.
“There were so many changes going on, and it was kind of an inflection point for women in the United States and what was possible for them, in terms of academic and career success.”
One of the most notable parts of Eldred-Robbins’ reign was his advocacy for the special needs community. She was the national spokesperson for the March of Dimes.
When answering the final round of questions for the 1970 Miss America pageant, Eldred-Robbins spoke about her little sister, Melanie, who was born with multiple birth defects and severe developmental delays – conditions that weren’t not often discussed during this period.
Bert Parks, the longtime Miss America TV pageant host, was unaware of Melanie’s condition when he asked Eldred-Robbins, “What advice would you give your sister to 14-year-old Melanie and other young girls on how to enter the ‘now’ generation?
Eldred-Robbins answered the question bluntly: “Well, unfortunately my little sister Melanie has brain damage, so I really couldn’t give her any information. But I think a young girl entering the ‘now’ generation today, I would tell her to just be herself and enjoy life by being herself,” according to her obituary.
When her sister died in 2008, Eldred-Robbins established the Pam Eldred Community Health Scholarship through the Miss Michigan organization, which awards a $2,000 scholarship to young women pursuing careers that impact health. special needs community.
After her stint as Miss America, Eldred-Robbins returned to Michigan and graduated from Mercy College, now the University of Detroit Mercy, with a degree in speech and drama, her obituary said. She continued to model and perform in the Detroit area and married in 1976.
After later divorcing, Eldred-Robbins started her own business as a cosmetologist and electrologist. She has also taught modeling classes, judged dance competitions and written for The Oakland Press, according to her obituary.
She gave birth to Levey Friedman in 1980 and was a devoted mother who worked hard to provide the highest quality education for her daughter. Levey Friedman credited much of his own success to his mother’s background as a speaker, her expertise in beauty, and her dedication to public service.
“My life has been very different from my mother’s, but a lot of what I’ve been able to accomplish is because of what she learned at that time in her life,” she told MLive .
Levey Friedman wrote a book about his mother’s reign in 2020, titled “Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America.”
Eldred-Robbins remarried Norman Robbins in 1998, and the two lived together in West Bloomfield and Boca Raton, Florida until her husband’s death in 2019.
Eldred-Robbins is survived by her daughter; his son-in-law, John Friedman; and her two grandsons, Carston and Quenton Friedman, whom she helped “ensure that they are still the most dapper young men you’ve ever seen,” according to her obituary.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Arc of Oakland County or the Pam Eldred Community Health Scholarship through the Miss Michigan organization.
“Even in death, Pam thought of others – donating her body to the University of Michigan for anatomical research – and she encourages others to explore this option for themselves,” her obituary concludes.
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