At a very young age, the boating and fishing culture was part of Kelly O’ Connor’s life, which made competing for Miss Destin in 1982 a perfect fit.
Kelly and her family moved from Okaloosa Island to Destin when she was 12 years old. By the age of 15, she was working at Marina Point pumping gas and selling bait to fishermen.
Kelly said her family was so involved in the fishing industry that her father, Bill O’Connor, opened the first insurance company that insured most of the boats in Destin. It was called O’Connor Insurance.
“I had a boat before I even had a car,” said Kelly, who got her first boat at age 14. “I loved everything about boating and fishing. It will be a good fit to be Miss Destin.”
Kelly said there weren’t a lot of opportunities for girls to participate in events like the Miss Destin pageant.
“Miss Destin gives the right of passage for girls to participate in the community,” she said.
Kelly was living in Destin for four years and a sophomore at Fort Walton Beach High School when she entered the competition and ended up winning the Miss Destin crown.
“I was in complete shock. I expected the older family’s girls who were in Destin to win,” she said.
Kelly was ready to take on the responsibility and enjoy all of the opportunities being Miss Destin would bring her way.
“The Rodeo had a trailer on the hill next to the bridge and we would watch the boats as they came in and see what flags they had up,” she said. “They were always so happy to show off their catch.”
Kelly said she remembers walking a long staircase that took her down to the dock and that was where she met the anglers.
“I loved having the daily winners, they would wait till the end of the day to see if they won,” she said.
Anglers and fishermen were always very excited to meet Miss Destin.
“They would come up to me and give me hugs,” Kelly said laughing. “I learned a lot about personal space and boundaries.”
During her year as Miss Destin, Kelly said she got to witness the opening of the first shopping plaza and stop light in Destin, which didn't officially become a city until 1984.
“Destin wasn’t a city when I was Miss Destin, so it was a pretty big deal,” she said.
Kelly went on to become a model traveling to Tokyo and Paris. She then spent most of her career in fashion marketing in Los Angeles.
She decided to move to Denver, Colorado, 11 years ago and after getting her master’s in psychology, she decided to open up her own consulting agency that specializing in elderly care called Senior Care Authority, Denver Metro
“I always took care of my parents and wanted to continue to do so for families in Denver,” she said.
Kelly said young ladies who are interested in the pageant should participate and become part of the rich history of Miss Destin and the Destin Fishing Rodeo.
“This is a way to honor the female contribution to the Destin fishing culture,” she said. “It’s a beautiful experience.”
Kelly urged the current Miss Destin, Rachel McMullen, to make the city proud and take the honor of representing the world’s luckiest fishing village with great pride.
“Help be part of cherished memories. You will take a lot of photos and be everywhere on social media. That wasn’t the case during my time,” she said.