Wendy Fitzwilliam: Beauty queen, attorney, author, mother

Published: Monday | October 5, 2009

Wendy Fitzwilliam and her son Ailan Panton. - Contributed

In 1998 she walked away with the title of Miss Universe. Today she is a proud single mother, vice-president of a large corporation and author. The road has been fraught with challenges for the 30-something, who says she would change nothing about her life. She steadfastly rises above them to continue the quest for the best.

Last Thursday, she launched her first book, Letters to Ailan, in her homeland, Trinidad & Tobago, and later this week, it will be launched here in Jamaica. In a telephone interview, Fitzwilliam spoke candidly with Lifestyle Editor Barbara Ellington about her new role as a mother and how she handles the choices she has made in her life.

BE: Memoirs are usually written much later in life - why have you written yours now and is this book the first of a three-book deal? Is there a movie in the works too?

WF: I call it my experience book because of becoming a mother. I have not confirmed any deals yet, but I do have the outlines for two more. One is about my travel experiences to over 30 countries. They are not the usual tourism destinations - some are beautiful and others, not so beautiful.

The other book will be based on watching mothers from all walks of life. It will look at mothers' relationships with their sons and how they are being raised in the Caribbean - we teach our girls to be anything they want to be but we are still raising boys as we did in the old days.

As for movie deals, one of the first people to read my manuscript was a friend who worked for Time Warner and he said although it was personal, he could not put it down and it would make a great movie, so I will wait and see.

Since we first heard that you were doing a book, speculation has been rife about what you may or may not have said about the father of your child, Jamaican Dr David Panton and ex-husband of Miss World-turned-politician, Lisa Hanna. Is this a tell-all book?

I could not write about Ailan and not mention his dad. We are no longer in a relationship, but I will always put the relationship with his son first. By the time Ailan reads the book, relationships would have morphed into other spheres. I would never trash-talk his father; we both have shortcomings and I talk about mine too.

I discussed the book with David - he gave me advice and even suggested that I read Ted Turner's biography for guidance. He gave me good advice. I wanted my book to be something that my mother and son would appreciate.

Do you think your decision to be a single mother was a wise one and do you have any regrets? Has the noise died down from those who felt you were no longer a role model for young women when you announced your pregnancy?

It was an exceptionally wise decision for me at the time. I was admitted to the Bar, I had a stable job, I had done well professionally and personally and I was comfortable with Wendy. It was the right decision and now I love the fact that I come home to a beautiful young man who loves me.

That's good but with his father living in the United States, how much 'man influence' does he get - mothers can't father children.

In the first two years of his life he saw a lot of his father. He also gets the nurturing of my father, my uncle Bob and our neighbours. He has role models in some of my friends. From I was pregnant, I have had an unwavering commitment to him. His father is committed to him too and they are always in contact.

As for being a role model to others, when I won the Miss Universe title and saw the adulation I was getting from young girls and women, I wondered how I would live up to their expectations. I soon realised that being Wendy had got me where I was and being Wendy would take me through.

I never exhibited public displays of affection; I went from being almost asexual to something akin to an immaculate conception. That I regarded as entertainment for some, but I gave my country an explanation for my decision. I don't see why I have to wait for a man to propose to me before I can be a mother. I got many vicious letters and many positive ones. They were written to the editor of our major newspaper and after a while I stopped reading them. I have to be true to myself.

And now, what gives you greatest joy/sorrow as a mother?

There are many joys, but my favourites are when he wakes up and says 'Mama'; when he holds on to the back of my neck and when he wants to be in my arms. Nothing about motherhood makes me sad, not the ugly challenges, nor the duties that come with it. I have help, so my time with him is real quality time for reading and playing and I entertain at home so I can include him.

BE: Do you plan to have more children and would you have more as a single mother?

WF: I would love to have two or three more. I am a firm believer in marriage to a companion who is there for me in good and bad times; not for appearances. I would like my next child to be from a stable relationship, even if it's not my biological child, but I am not ruling it out. I have been a caregiver for other children so I don't necessarily have to give birth to be a mother again.

Is there a man in your life now?

I am back to being Wendy; relationships are hard to maintain and I don't want to jinx any aspect of my life now so I am focused on my son.

How do you strike a balance between motherhood and a career and what is your role at eTECK?

One of the ways is that on the way to school in the mornings I don't take calls except from family members. If I do, Ailan says, 'Mama, you are hurting my ears, it's my time now.' I work for an investment company that is similar to Jamaica Trade and Invest. They own an industrial park and many other significant stakes in the country. We give advice and develop strategies for investment promotion.

I manage the investment promotion division where I interface with the ministries of Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs. I have an inward mission aimed at international bodies.

Why did you enter the Miss Universe contest?

Before entering, I was not a fan of beauty contests at all and afterwards, many thought it strange because I was always the least likely candidate. But I was encouraged by Trinidadian fashion designer, Peter Elias, the present franchise holder of Miss Universe in Trinidad. I appreciate the fact that beauty contests offer opportunities to many girls that they might not have had before. They teach young women how to get ahead and many former beauty queens are successful businesswomen today.

What do you think of the state of beauty contests today and are you still involved with the organisation?

They are still very fickle, but look at boxing - yet no one beats up on men for loving to beat each other up for sport. Pageants play up many unacceptable qualities in women, but more good than bad has come out of them. They have evolved over time from just pretty girls in swimsuits to dumbing down women's intelligence and now openly celebrating our talents.

From time to time I am asked to do events for the organisation and I visit the office when I am in New York. I still have a relationship with Donald Trump and he has endorsed my book.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I see myself attending Ailan's graduation from college with his siblings and my husband. I am weepy but happy - retired but still contributing to my country's development. I am not sure where life will take me but I will take Trinidad and the Caribbean with me. If this book becomes a movie, it will be filmed in all the islands where my story took place.


Wendy Fitzwilliam's first book - Contributed

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