Venus Ramey, a Kentucky native who gained fame as the first red-headed Miss America and later for shooting out the car tires of man trespassing on her farm, died Saturday.
She was 92.
Ramey had lived for years on a farm in Lincoln County, just north of Eubank, but had been in a nursing home before her death, said Kenny Upchurch, a retired sheriff’s deputy who knew her.
“She was a great American,” Upchurch said Sunday. “She was strong in her beliefs about things and she didn’t care to let you know about them.”
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There is a street in Eubank named in honor of Ramey and many people in town knew she had been Miss America, but she lived simply and was not given to talking about her one-time fame.
“She was a well-thought-of woman,” Upchurch said.
Ramey was born in Ashland, the granddaughter of a state senator and daughter of a state representative, and left Kentucky to work in Washington, D.C., in World War II, according to an archived page about her from the Miss America site.
Ramey represented the nation’s capital when her singing, dancing and comedic talents helped her win the Miss America crown in 1944. In addition to being the first winner with red hair, she was the first to be photographed in color, according to the archival information.
Ramey later performed in vaudeville shows and used her fame to sell war bonds — winning her a citation from the U.S. Treasury — and her image graced a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber as its nose art while it flew missions over Germany.
Ramey also helped push for the right of residents of the District of Columbia to vote.
The archived Miss America information said a Hollywood producer wanted to sign her for a major motion picture in 1947, but instead she moved back to a farm in Kentucky, married and had two sons.
In the 1970s, Ramey reportedly got involved in successful efforts to preserve Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine district.
The district is recognized as the largest, most intact urban historic district in America, with 943 contributing buildings, according to its Facebook page.
Ramey moved back to her farm at Eubank in 1990.
She was 82 when she made news again by shooting out the tires of a trespasser’s vehicle.
According to a Washington Post story, Ramey saw her dog run into a storage shed where thieves previously had stolen some equipment.
Ramey said a man in the building told her he would leave.
“I said, ‘Oh, no you won’t,’ and I shot their tires so they couldn’t leave,” Ramey said in an interview.
The story said Ramey had to balance on her walker while firing a snub-nosed, .38-caliber pistol.
“I didn’t even think twice. I just went and did it,” Ramey said. “If they’d even dared come close to me, they’d be 6 feet under by now.”
Ramey flagged down a passing motorist, who called 911.
A deputy said a man from Ohio was charged with trespassing on Ramey’s land.
The incident earned her an invitation to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She was a guest that evening with fellow redhead Conan O’Brien. When she was asked how she learned to shoot like that, she said, “‘I’m from Kentucky,’” Upchurch said.
“She wasn’t afraid of anything,” he said.
The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms lauded her for her actions.
Funeral arrangements for Ramey were incomplete Sunday at Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill.