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Silicon Queen

[whitespace] Mrs. California pageant A Union City mom gets serious about the Mrs. California pageant

By Michael Learmonth

In spreading the news of her recent coronation, Debra Walker first found she had to disabuse people of two misguided notions. First, it's not the Miss but the Mrs. California competition she's just qualified to enter. And second, her new title of Mrs. Silicon Valley has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with silicone.

"It's not Silicone Valley," she says, hands on hips, shaking her long blonde tresses.

Mother of two, technical writer and budding webmistress, Walker has anointed herself Silicon Valley's representative of all that is wholesome and sacred in American wifehood. She has just completed the first test in a competition that culminates in perhaps the greatest global recognition--short of secretary general of the United Nations--available to the married woman: coronation as Mrs. World.

Right now, though, Walker can't think too far ahead. She's focused on succeeding the current Mrs. California, Deborah Ashton of Folsom.

"She has my job," she says, picking an autographed glossy of Mrs. Ashton from beneath two books checked out from the Union City Library: Becoming a Beauty Queen: The Complete Guide (written by a couple of former Miss Americas with a foreword by Bob Barker) and The Crowning Touch: Preparing for a Beauty Pageant Competition.

Nearly a year ago Walker and her husband were sitting in the den of their Union City home (two blocks from Fremont, in case any Silicon Valley sticklers want to know) watching the Mrs. America competition. They always watch it, Walker says, and invariably her husband, Jim, who works as marketing director at IPAC in San Jose, turns to her and says: "You could do that."

This year Walker decided to take him seriously. She sold the dining room table and filled the den with exercise equipment. On her kitchen table is a Lazy Susan with 15 different vitamin supplements. She began taking an assortment and soon after felt her health improve and watched the spider veins on her ankles disappear.

At 47, Walker will be competing for Mrs. California against women less than half her age. The contest is restricted to married women, but recently it was opened to wives as young as 18. The youngest Mrs. California ever was 18; the oldest was 61.

Walker believes her maturity and poise will be the difference. She's striving for perfection here, at one point correcting her grammar in the air with an imaginary red pen. While her younger competitors may get tripped up by nervous "ums" and "likes," Walker has practiced purging fillers from her speech.

A day in the life of a beauty queen begins at 5:30am. Three other women arrive at 6am and they exercise until 7:30. Then she drives her 7-year-old twins to school in a minivan with a school of Jesus-fish on the back and the vanity plate 1SXELDY.

When Walker gets home she does another hour of reps on the treadmill, the Total Gym and the Dynaflex. She says she has a couple more pounds to shed to get down to her swimsuit-modeling weight of 125.

"My son Lloyd says, 'Mom, don't lose too much weight or they won't pick you.' "

After the second workout, Walker showers and gets ready for her workday. She says it takes her only 30 minutes to get into beauty-queen form. Then she retreats to her home office, where she works on her website, www.BeautifulBlonde.com, a budding modeling agency offering smart blondes for hire to represent high-tech companies at trade shows, in ad campaigns and the like. She's representing three other models besides herself, and she's considering a half-dozen others who may or may not pass muster.

"I'm looking for women with superior, gifted or genius-level IQ," she says. Walker took the Mensa test and says she missed membership by only one point.

But some visitors to her website have gotten the wrong idea. One company, the name of which Walker can't recall, offered her a gig to appear in their traveling conference booth and pose for their 1999 calendar for $1,000 a day. The catch? She had to pose topless. "No, thanks," she said.

Walker retreats to her bedroom and comes out modeling her new tiara and sash like a teenage girl excited about the prom. She says she would never wear both in public--it's either the tiara for formal occasions or the sash for daytime appearances. But now it's time to take leave of the beauty-queen life and pick up the twins from school. "Time," she says, "to put my little toys away."

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From the February 25-March 3, 1999 issue of Metro.

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