In October 2010 Blair Griffith stunned the judges of the Miss Colorado USA pageant with her beauty, winning the title. In February 2011 she stunned everyone -- when she admitted in an interview that she was homeless.
The 23-year-old beauty queen and her mother, Bonita Griffith, had been evicted just weeks after her victory. Blair said that when the Sheriff's Department came to her door to move them out, she had no idea how dire her family's financial situation had become.
"I didn't know what to think. It was shocking, and then I saw my mom on her knees crying and begging them, 'Please don't do this to me' and then looking up at me and saying 'I'm so sorry,'" Blair said.
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Before she could process what was happening, the authorities descended on Blair's home and began packing her belongings into garbage bags. "The only thing I had time to grab was my crown and my sash," Blair said.
The experience was in stark contrast to the way Blair's life began. Growing up in a middle-class suburb of Denver, her family lived comfortably. Blair's father, Gary Griffith, was an executive at the pharmaceutical company Merck while her mother stayed home with Blair and her brother, David. It was Gary Griffith who first encouraged Blair to pursue beauty pageants.
"When I was younger every time Miss USA came on or Miss Teen USA or Miss Universe, my Dad was like, 'Blair, come here, you have to watch this,'" Blair said. But at the age of 14, those special father-daughter moments came to an abrupt end when Gary Griffith was diagnosed with prostate cancer and, within six months, passed away.
Bonita Griffith was left to grapple with her grief -- and the family's finances. "When I started looking at everything we owed -- medical debt, taking care of the home and everything -- I was like, 'Boy this is going to be hard,'" Bonita said.
Bonita eventually sold her home and moved the family into a small rental house. This helped, but the financial trouble continued. Just as things seemed to be getting serious, a welcome distraction arrived in the mail.
"We got a flyer, my mom and I, saying, 'You could be the next Miss Teen USA,' so we looked at each other like, maybe [I] should give it a try," Blair said. After scraping together the entrance fee, Blair competed in her first beauty pageant and, to the surprise of everyone, placed in the top five.
Blair said that along with keeping her focused, pageants were a way to maintain a connection to her father. With money always tight, Blair had to be creative to get the dresses she needed to compete. "We'd go to clearance racks and any store where we could get a deal," she said. "After prom season all those dresses go on sale, so we always shopped for sale items."
In 2006 Blair won her first major title when she was crowned Miss Teen Colorado USA. But just a year later she faced more hardship when her mother suffered a severe heart attack. Several stays in the hospital led to mounting medical bills, then Bonita lost her health insurance.
"The insurance company didn't want to cover me because they said I was a pre-existing condition. I was saddled with a lot of hospital debt and I had to take medications in order to survive, and that was out of pocket. We really were going in a downward spiral," Bonita said.