Heather Whitestone McCallum was born on 24 February, 1973. Heather is a beauty queen who was the first deaf Miss America title holder, having lost her hearing at the age of 18 months. Heather Whitestone McCallum represented Alabama at the 1995 Miss America pageant held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite being profoundly deaf, she performed ballet en pointe to the song “Via Dolorosa” as her talent, winning the preliminary talent competition, as well as the preliminary swimsuit competition.
Heather Whitestone McCallum was born and raised in Dothan for the first 11 years of her life. Heather Whitestone McCallum’s mother, Daphne Gray, decided that her daughter would read lips and learn to speak (using what little hearing remained in her left ear) instead of learning to sign. She notes in her book Today’s Heroes: Heather Whitestone, that she has been greatly criticized in the deaf community for this decision. Although the book claims Heather Whitestone McCallum wanted to sign at first, her mother refused to allow it. Heather Whitestone McCallum does know sign language now, but she is reported to speak out against it.
In 1984, after doing poorly in mainstream education, Heather Whitestone McCallum attended the Central Institute for the Deaf where she improved her reading by 6 grade levels in just 3 years and eventually graduated in 1987 with a 3.6 GPA. Heather Whitestone McCallum moved to Birmingham at the age of 16, following her parents’ divorce. Heather Whitestone McCallum attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts for a year and graduated from Berry High School (now Hoover High School) in 1991. Heather Whitestone McCallum then went on to study at Jacksonville State University where she was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.
Heather Whitestone McCallum competed in many beauty pageants, winning the Shelby County Junior Miss pageant. Heather Whitestone McCallum’s 1st year in the Miss America system, she won the Miss Jacksonville State University title and went on to be 1st runner up to Miss Alabama 1992, Kim Wimmer. The following year she won the Miss Point Mallard competition and once again, placed 1st runner up to Miss Alabama, Kalyn Chapman (who had placed as Heather Whitestone McCallum’s 1st runner up at Point Mallard). The following year Heather Whitestone McCallum won the Miss Cullman Area title and finally won the Miss Alabama title in 1994. Heather Whitestone McCallum was the first deaf woman to win this title.
Heather Whitestone McCallum represented Alabama at the 1995 Miss America pageant held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite being profoundly deaf, she performed ballet en pointe to the song “Via Dolorosa” as her talent, winning the preliminary talent competition, as well as the preliminary swimsuit competition. Heather Whitestone McCallum was the first double preliminary winner from Alabama since the 1978 Miss America pageant. That double winner, Teresa Cheatham, also a former Miss Point Mallard, was 1st runner up to Miss America, Kylene Barker of Virginia.
In 1995 the field again narrowed to Miss Alabama and Miss Virginia (Cullen Johnson). When the 1st runner up was announced, Heather Whitestone McCallum could not hear host Regis Philbin but could read his lips. Surprised, she looked to her fellow contestant for confirmation that she had won.
Since her Miss America win, Heather Whitestone McCallum has completed her studies at Jacksonville State University and has continued to promote awareness of deaf issues. Heather Whitestone McCallum has also spoken out in detail about her close relationship with God, one that she has had ever since she rediscovered church as a teenager. Heather Whitestone McCallum wrote about her life experiences in a book called Let God Surprise You: Trust God with Your Dreams.
In 2002, she courted controversy among the Deaf community when she decided to have a cochlear implant operation in order to hear to an extent in her right ear, something that she had never been able to experience before. Heather Whitestone McCallum said the primary motivation for electing the surgery was an incident when she did not hear her son’s cries for help. Heather Whitestone McCallum said that she has not regretted her decision, thanking her family for supporting her.
In 2006, after losing residual hearing in her left ear, she received a 2nd cochlear implant.
Heather Whitestone McCallum currently lives in the Atlanta area with her husband John McCallum, a former Congressional aide, and 3 children.
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