Twenty-one years ago, I met a woman with a beautiful face and an even more beautiful spirit.

Her name was Kelly Roarke and she was Miss Rhode Island 1997. I was Miss Wisconsin at the time and we became friends on the stage of the Miss America pageant.

I haven’t heard from Kelly in years. I get to see updates on Facebook, but sadly that’s the extent of our friendship. Imagine my surprise when I got this email from Kelly.

“I went home to Rhode Island to see my mom for Mother’s Day. Although she’s had a very tough year with failing health, at 81 she still likes to get out in the action, so the two of us went out to dinner at the Coast Guard House Restaurant in Narragansett (R.I.).

“We had a lovely, life affirming encounter with a woman at dinner, and my mom said she just had to write to tell you. She forwarded the note to me and asked that I passed it along.”

“Nicole, I am Miss Rhode Island 1997’s mother. She sent me the book about kindness that you wrote and I have enjoyed and learned from every story. My mom always said one good turn deserves another. Each of the stories in ‘Kindness is Contagious’ is how that works. I have an example.

“Kelly and I were having a Mother’s Day Eve dinner and I mentioned to a lovely women, much younger than I, how much I admired her hair. She thanked me and told me that she was a cancer survivor and she really hated her short hair, since before treatment she had long, full hair.

“Kelly told her how I was admiring her hair, the cut, style and color all evening. The woman thanked me and returned to her seat, then jumped up again and came over, gave me a hug and said I had made her day. She was really happy.”

“Nicole, since my mom doesn’t have the energy (nor battery life on her computer), I’d like to expand on the visible/audible reaction the woman had to my mother’s simple compliment on her hair. She said that she had really been struggling with the loss of her hair, ‘more than the boobs,’ and had been feeling really down, and she was genuinely touched. She said it was just what she needed to hear at that moment.

“Her husband joined her at our table to thank my mom as well, saying we had no idea what they’d been through and how much her kind words meant.

“In the end there were hugs, kisses, teary eyes, and God’s blessings shared.”

I’m constantly amazed by the power of kindness to show up at just the right moment. It reminds us that even in a world filled with billions of people, we are seen and we are loved — and in the case of a Miss America Sister sending a note 21 years after meeting, we are remembered.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Athens, Ohio with her three children and her husband, Saul, who is the men’s head basketball coach at Ohio University. Her column runs every Friday. You can visit Nicole at