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Road Not Always Perfect for Miss Tennessee

When Miss Tennessee Caty Davis was in high school in Knoxville, she says she tried to make everyone she came in contact with think everything in her life was perfect.

Davis, who won Miss Lexington and Miss Tennessee in 2017, has spent the past few months telling everyone her life isn’t perfect.

Her family history includes two suicides, 12 people struggling with substance abuse, and she dealt with her own feelings of guilt and inadequacy after her parents divorced when she was just 4 years old. Her life is far from perfect.

“Girls ask me all the time how I balance this crown on my head,” Davis told a group of young people at Youth Town during a recent. “But there’s clips there holding it in place.

“I don’t have it all together. I’m not rich. And I’m not this perfect person that everyone thinks you have to be to win a pageant — and that’s OK.”

As she gradually came to that realization, her view of herself began to change.

Miss Tennessee 2017 Caty Davis gave the keynote speech during the First Ladies' Luncheon presented by the Women's Leadership Council of the United Way of West Tennessee presented, Thursday, April 12, at the Jackson Fairgrounds.

A tough start

After her parents divorced, Davis said she wondered many times if she was the reason they decided to get out of their marriage. What had she done to cause it? Was she the reason her parents no longer loved each other?

But her father dealt with substance abuse throughout his adult life, which affected how often he was present in her and her younger sister’s lives.

“We did the weekend visits when he was able to do them, but there would be stretches where we wouldn’t see him,” Davis said. “And during those times, I wondered what I was doing that made my daddy not want to be around me.

“We knew he was getting drunk and high, but I wondered why he’d rather do that than come see me and my sister. Actually, now looking back on it, I think there was a part of him who was shielding us from seeing that side of him, because his parents dealt with substance abuse, and he wasn’t shielded from it, and he knew how bad it could look.”

Then came the time when he couldn’t shield it from his daughters. Davis was 11 years old and her sister was 9 when their father took them on a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Dad had been doing well for a couple years,” Davis said. “He’d been sober, was active in our lives, showing up at our games and recitals, was active in church, was the guy everybody loved.

“But when we were in Myrtle Beach, he relapsed — and I was the one who found him on our hotel room floor, passed out, face down.”

Davis said she didn’t know what to do or how to handle the situation. She was afraid calling 911 would bring the authorities and get her dad in trouble, which she didn’t want to do. She eventually had to contact hotel staff after locking her and her sister out of their room.

“There wasn’t a day that went by after that, that he didn’t apologize for making me go through that,” Davis said.

Miss Tennessee 2017 Caty Davis enters the Carl Perkins Civic Center. PAM DIETZ/The Jackson Sun

Unlikely positive influence

Seeing the effect substance abuse had on her dad’s life, Davis said she had no trouble staying away from drugs.

“Growing up, I got invited to all these parties, and there were things going on that I wanted no part in,” Davis said. “I was part of the 'in crowd,' but I wasn’t everybody’s drinking buddy.

“I actually stayed away from those parties until I no longer got invited to them, and even lost some friends because of that.”

Davis said making those choices forced her to make a difficult decision. As she lost friends, she had to decide whether she wanted to be one of the most popular girls in school and follow the crowd or maintain respect from other people, as well as herself.

She chose the latter, keeping her eye on goals of going to college and gaining scholarships while also remaining active in every student organization she could. Surprising to her, that choice led to winning her first crown.

“I was a part of the crowd, but maybe not close with many people,” Davis said. “But I guess I still had the respect of people because my senior year I was elected basketball homecoming queen.”

She had the respect of her peers, and Davis said she did a good job of masking what was going on in her family. But then a couple of things ripped that mask off.

The second annual West Tennessee GenerosiTEA Party was held on Saturday, March 3, 2018, and benefited Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. The fundraiser included the Mags & Lulu Fashion Show, vendors, a silent auction, activity stations and was attended by Miss Tennessee Caty Davis.

Family tragedy

Davis’ brother committed suicide when he was 23 years old. She was a junior at the time, and while people knew what had happened, it wasn’t really discussed much.

Then one day her father was arrested, close to the time she was crowned homecoming queen.

A few people who’d stopped inviting her to parties thought Davis had a holier-than-thouattitude, and Davis said she had to deal with people finding out her life wasn’t as perfect as she wanted them to believe, when her dad’s mugshot popped up on everyone’s Twitter feed.

“Everybody thought Caty Davis was this perfect girl that lived this great life, and then to see that changed a lot of people’s views,” Davis said. “But I was concerned for my dad’s safety. Was he going to spiral out of control or could he get past this and recover?”

Davis graduated later that year and stayed close to home for college, enrolling at the University of Tennessee. Her mother had remarried and brought two stepsisters into the family who were close to the same age as Davis and her sister. But the family really united when the couple had a child together 12 years ago.

That foundation has helped Davis get through the tough times as she dealt with her own personal feelings before gradually coming to the realization that she’s not defined by pageant success, or her family history, and that she is enough for herself.

And that support group was much needed in the summer after her freshman year, when her father took his own life. Davis said she grieves the lost chances at a relationship with him as an adult daughter that could’ve possibly helped him overcome his struggles. But it was her family and her own self-respect that helped her navigate that hard time of her life.

“I could’ve acted out and dropped out of college while grieving that loss,” Davis said. “But none of that would’ve allowed me the chance to stand here today had I not found comfort in respecting myself, and education, and the people around me helping me through it.

“I also found music as a healthy coping mechanism to express myself when life doesn’t make sense.”

This young lady enjoyed some “special” time with Miss Tennessee Caty Davis during the second annual GenerosiTEA Party on March 3 at the Le Bonheur Children’s Outpatient Clinic on Vann Drive in Jackson.

‘For such a time as this’

Davis admits she doesn’t fully understand why she’s dealt with all she has thus far in her life.

She told the group at Youth Town that a Bible verse in the book of Esther seems relevant to her. The last few words of Esther 4:14 (NIV): “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Davis said she believes in divine intervention and God’s timing. She’d competed four years before finally winning Miss Tennessee last year. She failed to win a local pageant to qualify for Miss Tennessee the summer her father died, the week of the annual competition in Jackson.

“It happened on that Wednesday, and I think by not making it that year I was spared being in the situation where I’m preparing to compete and finding out then that my dad had died,” Davis said.

Now that she is Miss Tennessee, she’s had the opportunity to spend the past year using her platform to bring awareness to addiction and its effects.

Because of what she dealt with in her own childhood, she also has a purpose during all her school visits.

“When I’m in a school, I’m obviously wanting to talk to the students about making good choices and staying away from drugs,” Davis said. “But I also remember how things were for me in elementary school, and how much I looked up to Miss Tennessee.

“And when I walk into those schools I want to be to the girls there what sixth-grade Caty needed — something to look up to, motivation or just someone to give them a hug and tell them they’re good enough. Because they are, and more girls need to know that.”

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