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Venus Ramey, Miss America who inspired WWII effort, dies

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/19/2017 By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
FILE – In this April 17, 2007 file photo, Venus Ramey, 82, winner of the Miss America pageant in 1944 as the contestant representing Washington, D.C., poses for a photograph near her home in Waynesburg, Ky. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (George Lewis/The Interior Journal via AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this April 17, 2007 file photo, Venus Ramey, 82, winner of the Miss America pageant in 1944 as the contestant representing Washington, D.C., poses for a photograph near her home in Waynesburg, Ky. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (George Lewis/The Interior Journal via AP, File)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Venus Ramey, a former Miss America who helped rally the nation during World War II and found renewed fame later in life by shooting out the tires of intruders at her Kentucky farm, has died. She was 92.

FILE – In this April 17, 2007, file photo, Venus Ramey, 82, winner of the Miss America pageant in 1944 as the contestant representing Washington, D.C., walks with her dogs near her property in Waynesburg, Ky. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (George Lewis/The Interior Journal via AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this April 17, 2007, file photo, Venus Ramey, 82, winner of the Miss America pageant in 1944 as the contestant representing Washington, D.C., walks with her dogs near her property in Waynesburg, Ky. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (George Lewis/The Interior Journal via AP, File)

The 1944 Miss America died Saturday, according to the Morris and Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Kentucky.

FILE – In this Aug. 27, 1954, file photo, Venus Ramey Murphy, of Stanford, Ky., winner of the Miss America pageant in 1944 as the contestant representing Washington, D.C., poses for a photograph to coincide with her return to Atlantic City, N.J., to serve as a judge of the competition. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Aug. 27, 1954, file photo, Venus Ramey Murphy, of Stanford, Ky., winner of the Miss America pageant in 1944 as the contestant representing Washington, D.C., poses for a photograph to coincide with her return to Atlantic City, N.J., to serve as a judge of the competition. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo, File)

Ramey was the first redhead to win the Miss America title and the first to be photographed in color. After winning the crown, she embarked on a vaudeville tour and sold $5 million in war bonds. Her likeness also graced a B-17 that made 68 raids over Germany and other Nazi-occupied nations.

FILE – In this Oct. 18, 1944, file photo, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, left, buys a $100 war bond from Venus Ramey, of Washington, D.C., crowned winner of the Miss America pageant of 1944, at the White House in Washington. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo/Herbert White, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Oct. 18, 1944, file photo, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, left, buys a $100 war bond from Venus Ramey, of Washington, D.C., crowned winner of the Miss America pageant of 1944, at the White House in Washington. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo/Herbert White, File)

"Venus was a revolutionary Miss America who lived a full life, cared deeply about her country and our military, and utilized her influence for the good of our nation," said Josh Randle, president of the Miss America Organization. "Venus will be greatly missed by the Miss America family, and our thoughts and prayers are with her loved ones."

FILE – In this Aug. 19, 1944, file photo, Venus Ramey, 19, after she was selected to represent the District of Columbia in the Miss America pageant as Miss Washington, D.C., poses with her crown, bouquet of roses and sash in Washington. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Aug. 19, 1944, file photo, Venus Ramey, 19, after she was selected to represent the District of Columbia in the Miss America pageant as Miss Washington, D.C., poses with her crown, bouquet of roses and sash in Washington. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs, File)

Kenny Upchurch, a retired sheriff's officer in Kentucky, befriended Ramey after she won the title, but they never talked about it, or her experiences on behalf of the war effort. Rather, he said, they would chat about local concerns at the post office when she came to pick up her mail.

FILE – In this Sept. 9, 1944, file photo, Venus Ramey, selected to represent the District of Columbia in the Miss America pageant as Miss Washington, D.C., performs in the talent show part of the competition before she was crowned that year's Miss America pageant winner in Atlantic City, N.J. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Sept. 9, 1944, file photo, Venus Ramey, selected to represent the District of Columbia in the Miss America pageant as Miss Washington, D.C., performs in the talent show part of the competition before she was crowned that year's Miss America pageant winner in Atlantic City, N.J. Ramey, the first red-haired Miss America, died Saturday, June 17, 2017, according to the Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. (AP Photo, File)

"She was a great American," he said. "She loved animals. A lot of people would drop stray animals off, and she would take care of them. She was just a very kind and caring person."

Born In Ashland, Kentucky, Ramey represented Washington, D.C., where she lived at the time, in the Miss America pageant and captured the title in Atlantic City.

Although she was offered movie contracts, Ramey agreed to go on a 55-city tour of the country selling war bonds for the U.S. Treasury, which honored her for eventually selling $5 million worth.

She also inspired the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber that rained explosives on the enemy in Germany, Italy and France during the war. Her image was stenciled onto the side of the bomber.

Ramey also took up political activism, working with U.S. senators and representatives on voting rights for Washington, D.C., and for women's rights.

She made renewed headlines in 2007 when, at age 82, she shot out the tires of some intruders who drove onto her farm in Waynesburg, Kentucky, and detained them until the authorities arrived. The exploit earned her an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

Ramey had to balance on her walker as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun and shot out the tires before anyone could go anywhere.

"I didn't even think twice. I just went and did it," she said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be six feet under by now. I'm trying to live a quiet, peaceful life and stay out of trouble, and all it is, is one thing after another."

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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