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No sash, but the competitive streak's the same

April 2009

By: Brendan Kearney

The Daily Record

As a 21-year-old, Kelly A. Donohue wore an $8,000 Stephen Yearick gown and represented her home state of Maryland at the Miss USA Pageant held that year in the show town of Branson, Mo.

Now an attorney in Baltimore, Donohue, 31, represents health care providers in medical negligence litigation and is generally more understated in her dress.

But a decade after hanging up her sash and retiring her crown, Donohue said she still relies on her experience as a beauty queen — how it taught her to position her feet, as well as think on them.

Answering questions during the interview component of the competition, for example, “causes you to develop an ability to think on your feet and be confident, and I think those are skills that are very transferable to making an opening argument or arguing a motion,” Donohue said.

“There’s quite a bit that goes into it — so much more than people would guess,” she said of pageant prep. “From how you walk, to how you stand to how you position your feet as you stand … and that carries over to how you present yourself in your daily life.”

A Randallstown native, Donohue’s pageant career began in high school and carried into her time at the University of Maryland College Park, where she majored in neurobiology and physiology. Her mother, Debbie, was involved every step of the way.

“It was something my mother and I spent a lot of time doing together,” Donohue said. “Those are really fun things for a daughter to do with her mother.”

She had other help, too: an athletic trainer, an interview coach and a wardrobe consultant. After all, she had to shine in each of the competition’s pieces: swimsuit, evening gown and interview.

Donohue’s first competition was Miss Maryland Teen USA in 1995. In 1996, she moved up to the Miss Maryland USA contest and was fourth runner-up. Undeterred, she showed up again the next year and placed second.

Then she intensified her workout regimen, exercising nearly every day.

In the fall of 1998, she became Miss Maryland.

“I don’t give up. I’m still like that,” Donohue said, adding she was “bound and determined to win.” Likening it to law, she said, “if you haven’t lost a case, you haven’t tried enough cases.”

She said it’s not unusual for girls to compete once or twice “to get a flavor for it” and become “polished” before winning.

Her spoils included cash, jewelry — a ruby and diamond ring and a diamond necklace — artwork, luggage and clothing.

And that ticket to Branson.

“You’re there for 18 days. And during the course of that time, you’re practicing and preparing for the production, because it’s a television show. Then in the downtime we did a lot of public appearances and attended different events that were ongoing in the area,” Donohue recalled, including a showboat appearance and a train tour. “They have FBI escorts to make sure you’re safe.”

Donohue did not make the semifinals, the portion broadcast on television and hosted by actor/model Shemar Moore. She only ever saw Donald Trump, who owns the competition along with NBC, from a distance.

“Maryland usually doesn’t for whatever reason. That was disappointing but it was a fun experience,” Donohue said.

Her cause for her 1999 title year was child-abduction prevention, which was motivated by a near-miss as a child biking home from school.

Donohue said her current job at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP, where she met her husband, is the “perfect mix” between medicine, which she considered professionally, and law.

Although Donohue has “taken on the life of a lawyer, a mom and a wife,” she still hopes to pass on her passion to the next generation or at least encourage 16-month-old Isabella to someday “put herself out there.”

And the gown?

“I still have it. I could never bear to part with it,” she said.


Reprinted with permission of The Daily Record Co. 2009.

For More Information, Contact:

Brendan Kearney
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer