Massapequa native crowned Ms. New York Senior America
If you had asked a young Maureen Griffin-Damone if she would ever compete in a pageant, the answer would have been a resounding, “no way.”
Fast forward a few decades and that’s also what she would have said if you asked her if she would be open to driving across country on a motorcycle. But Griffin-Damone, it seems, has a way of surprising herself.
The 62-year-old Massapequa native was recently crowned Ms. New York Senior America, beating out 10 women from across Long Island for the title as well as a cash reward. In October, she will compete against other seniors from across the country for the U.S. title.
Designed to promote a positive image of aging, Ms. New York Senior America draws a variety of women 60 years and older who display their beauty, talents and elegance at the yearly pageant at Molloy College in Rockville Centre.
Contestants are judged on how they carry themselves during an evening gown portion, interview, talent performance and on their philosophy of life.
“Being young is in [your heart] and it doesn’t matter how old you are,” read Griffin-Damone in her philosophy of life. “Being young is pursuing the dreams that God put in your heart because He put them there for a reason. Sometimes those dreams can seem a little crazy. The most important thing to staying young is to have a sense of humor, and to put as much fun as possible into every single day. And that makes me look forward to being a very young 90-year-old.”
Griffin-Damone—whose resume includes teaching high school English and a musical theatre masters degree as well as a background in dance—said her life started in her 50s. Prior to that, it was commuting to the city, going on auditions and working an office job.
“When I got to 50, I said, ‘you might as well do the fun things while you still can,’” said Griffin-Damone, who treated herself to excursions like vacations, parasailing and white-water rafting.
But it was a chance encounter in 2007 that led to Griffin-Damone’s life changing forever. Griffin-Damone met her now-husband, Curtis, at a concert at Water Lily’s on the Nautical Mile, and despite his best arguments, she refused to get on his motorcycle. But the next time she saw him, she gave in and by the end of their trip to Jones Beach, she was hooked.
A few months later, she had a motorcycle license and her own bike and in the last decade she’s racked up more than 116,000 miles, including a six-week cross country trip for her honeymoon.
But riding motorcycles didn’t just unleash Griffin-Damone’s inner biker, it also let out her inner musician.
“I started amassing all these stories about the whole motorcycle culture and the people we’d meet. I started writing songs and recording,” said Griffin-Damone, who is set to release her fourth album this month.
Her songs and social media presence soon caught the attention of Steve Vaccaro, who invited Griffin-Damone onto his radio and Cablevision show, as well as encouraged her to audition for the Ms. New York Senior America pageant.
Though she was initially hesitant, she threw caution to the wind and joined 50 others at the auditions at the Massapequa Bar Harbour Library. She sang an original, “Foolish Old Lady Chasing A Dream,” accompanying herself on piano.
The judges loved it and soon Griffin-Damone found herself in the world of pageantry, working with a mentor and doing everything she could to avoid tan lines. And though pageant contestants have a stereotype for being catty and mean, Griffin-Damone said at Ms. New York Senior America, that wasn’t the case.
“Everyone was really supportive and we were just like sisters,” said Griffin-Damone. “I feel really close to a bunch of them. We were all just saying, ‘what the heck are we doing in a pageant?’ There were ladies from 60 to 79 in this pageant, from all shapes and sizes and walks of life. We became such dear friends.”
In addition to winning the crown, Griffin-Damone was also named Miss Congeniality, a title voted on by the contestants. She’s currently doing local events and performing with the Seasoned Steppers—a senior tap dancing group—as well as getting ready for the nationals in October.
“I am looking forward to making new close friends like I made at the New York Pageant,” said Griffin-Damone. “The women with whom I have had contact all say they want to have a great time. How wonderful to have friends in every state!”