If you’ve dialed 911 in the last five years while in South Walton, you may have been speaking with a former Miss Florida — though you’d never know it.
Priscilla Brown, nee Schnarr, worked as a 911 dispatcher for the South Walton Fire District before retiring Aug. 31. And even among her colleagues, Brown never let slip that she was a pageant winner.
“I never bothered to say anything to anybody,” the 1964 Miss Florida said. “I kept it from them for five and a half years.”
But at her surprise retirement party, the group presented a slideshow of photographs of Brown, including some from when she won the Miss Florida crown at the age of 17.
“If you ever happen to meet Charlotte Flynt … thank her for letting the ‘cat out of the bag’ to (South Walton Fire District administrative assistant) Robbie (Lund) one day in late July,” Brown told The Sun of how her colleagues found out.
Brown said she’s still a bit shy to share the story, but that her Miss Florida win was an unexpected honor.
“I didn’t expect to win,” said the woman who identified herself more as athlete than beauty queen. “Athletic blondes did not win giddy contests then.”
But even so, it is clear Brown had the winning combination of talent, interview skills, and beauty to win.
“It’s more than just walking around being pretty. You have to have a little brain in there,” she said with a laugh.
Her song-and-dance routine of Damn Yankees’ “Whatever Lola Wants” likely won over the judges, who she pleased again with her answers to the interview questions.
Her responses to the judges’: “What one book would you bring with you if you were stranded alone on a desert island?” and “What’s your favorite state in the U.S.A.?” were, respectively, “A cookbook to teach me how to use the flora on the island” and “Florida.”
“What do you think I said to that one?” she said, laughing. “Some girls said California.”
The year following the win, Brown acted as a delegate for the state of Florida, traveling around the country and continent to “sell” the state.
She traveled more than 80,000 miles that year, and stopped off in Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, Chicago and Canada.
Growing up and especially after that year, Brown had imagined she would follow in the footsteps of her mother, a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, and end up in show business.
But after she married, divorced and was left to support two children, she decided she would go a more stable route and began work as a 911 dispatcher in Miami.
“It’s not something you do to have a paycheck every two weeks,” said Brown, who quickly realized it’s more than just a job. “It’s definitely a calling.”
She said her time in Miami definitely kept her busy, and she remembered a call at 4 a.m. from a man who said an elephant was at his door.
Though incredulous, she dispatched a deputy, per protocol, and when he arrived, he did indeed find an elephant from a nearby circus at the caller’s front door.
She left Miami behind in 1990 and moved to Northwest Florida to work for the Fort Walton Beach police. She took the post at South Walton Fire District in 2007.
Brown said she loves it here, but that the pace is a bit slower than it was when she first started her career.
“It’s not nearly as busy. They also don’t have elephants knocking on their doors,” she added with a laugh.
Brown said she loved her job and will most miss her coworkers and helping people in the community, but she realized it was time to start a new phase.
“I’m 66, it’s time for me to let somebody else do it,” she said. “I didn’t feel that I was going to be the best that I could be for much longer.”
But though she is retired from 911 lines, she certainly will not be idle.
“My husband and I ride motorcycles, we hunt, we fish, we garden,” the Freeport resident said. “We’re going to have a good time.”