DEER PARK, Texas – Friends of Chelsi Smith, a Deer Park native who had a historic run as Miss Texas, Miss USA and Miss Universe, remembered her Monday after word spread of her untimely death over the weekend.
The 45-year-old Smith had a brief and private battle with cancer and passed away in Pennsylvania.
"We have lost an icon, and people who didn't know Chelsi, only her personification, can't really understand the pain of this," said longtime friend Shelby Kibodeaux, who met Smith when they were teenagers in 1987 working as counselors at a camp for children with autism.
"Everybody wanted to be friends with Chelsi because she was the bomb and I was lucky enough to be her friend;
her whole outlook on life made my outlook better," Kibodeaux said.
Smith attended Deer Park High School before hitting the pageant circuit, where she met acclaimed pageant coach J.J. Smith.
"There was an inner quality that she had; she was so warm and a genuine realness to her that you just couldn't miss," he said.
Chelsi Smith made history, becoming the first woman of African-American descent to win Miss Texas, then went on to claim both the Miss USA and Miss Universe crowns in 1995.
"This girl from Deer Park, Texas, had really conquered the whole universe," J.J. Smith said.
Chelsi Smith went on to have a successful career in the entertainment industry, but never forgot the friends who knew her outside of her crowns and gowns.
Plans are underway for a memorial service in Houston in the coming weeks.