When Ann (Lawrie) James was crowned the first 500 Festival queen in 1959, she knew it would be a thrilling experience. Little did she know that she would meet her future husband in all the pageantry.
“I met Dick in 1959, and we had our first date in 1960,” said James, who was also crowned Miss Garfield Park. “We were married Sept. 10, 1960.”
Ann, who graduated from Sacred Heart High School and attended St. Vincent School of Nursing, recalls being ushered everywhere to make appearances in promoting the Indianapolis 500. “I met a lot of people; it was a very interesting time. I loved everything about it.”
Because her husband was a salesman with the National Paper Co., the couple moved 17 times. While calling Charleston, W. Va., home from 1962-65, Ann hosted a morning television show.
“I remember interviewing former President Harry Truman and asking him if he thought a women would ever be elected president. “He replied, ‘God, I hope not.’ ”
The Jameses’ youngest of three sons was born on race day in 1964.
Ann continued to follow the race throughout the years, and race day in 2008 will forever be etched in her mind – it was the day her husband died. “He passed in my arms and said, ‘I will love you forever.’ ”
A week after her husband’s death, Ann asked him for some kind of sign that he was OK. Later that day three buds burst open on a gardenia at the couple’s home. Ann reasoned that it was a sign of their three sons.
In 2011 Ann flew all of her children and grandchildren into Indianapolis for the race. “There was nothing like watching the grandchildren’s faces as they saw the start of the race for the first time. It sent chills up my spine,” said Ann via the telephone from her McKinney, Texas, home Saturday morning.
Ann has put in a request to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that her ashes be spread there with her husband’s after she dies. She is awaiting a response.
“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will always have a special place in my heart, as will Indianapolis.”