Cut to the Chaste

updated 04/01/1996 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/01/1996 01:00AM

WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG AND IN LOVE, three weeks apart can seem like an eternity. So when John McCallum, an Atlanta-based financial adviser, got a few days off last December, he grabbed an evening flight to the West Coast to be with his fiancée, former Miss America Heather Whitestone, who was dancing in the Christmas pageant at the evangelical Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. Arriving at Whitestone's hotel, McCallum got right to the point: " 'Are you tired?' I asked. She said, 'Yeah, are you?' I said, 'Yeah.' And we went to bed."

In separate rooms, of course.

Yes, in an age when gen-X values occasionally can make even Melrose Place seem realistic, Whitestone, 23, and McCallum, 26, are proudly anachronistic. They are both born-again Christians for whom "going to bed" still means getting some sleep.

Their courtship, not surprisingly, was equally old-fashioned. It began last spring, a few weeks after Whitestone, who is deaf but can read lips and speak, came as Miss America 1995 to the office of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, where McCallum was working as an aide. A few weeks later, when a photo Whitestone had taken with Gingrich staffers landed on McCallum's desk, he wrote asking her to autograph the picture—and to meet him for dinner. "She seemed like a really nice, sweet girl," he says. But Whitestone, who hadn't dated since she was named Miss Alabama in 1994, was unimpressed. "He looked so young, I thought he was a high school student," she recalls.

Persuaded by her assistant to accept the offer ("This guy has guts," the assistant observed), Whitestone soon met McCallum for appetizers at a Washington restaurant. "She asked me out of nowhere, 'How did you become a Christian?' " he remembers. Admits Whitestone: "I was really hard on him." But pleased by his response that he was born again and had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, she relaxed and stayed for dinner. Which doesn't mean there was a good-night kiss at the end of the date. Or the next. Or even the one after that. "I didn't kiss him or hold his hand for six months," she says. "I wanted to get to know him first." Says McCallum, who proposed last November: "I knew there was something special about her. I was going to do whatever it took to get her."

That sort of determination is familiar to Whitestone, who has shown plenty in dealing with her deafness. The youngest of three daughters raised in an Episcopalian home in Dothan, Ala., by her father, Jack, a furniture salesman, and her mother, Daphne, a schoolteacher, she lost her hearing in one ear and all but 5 percent in the other when she was 18 months old, following a reaction to medication. Taught by her mother to read lips and use her voice, she grew up not using sign language and, for the most part, attended regular public schools. In high school, wanting to get closer to God, she became a Baptist.

In 1991 she enrolled at Jacksonville State University (she left after winning Miss America but plans to return to college) and began entering beauty pageants to help pay tuition. Crowned Miss America in 1994, Whitestone was the first person with a physical disability to capture the title.

McCallum and his younger sister grew up in San Antonio and later—after his father, Jerry, an investigator who screens potential hires for companies, and his mother, Linda, an interior decorator, were divorced—in Atlanta. In high school, McCallum confesses to having been "a cutup, pulling pranks. I realized there was something missing in my life—God." Like Whitestone, he renewed his Christian faith and became a fervent Baptist. He went to work for Gingrich after graduating from Washington and Lee University in 1992.

With Whitestone on the road almost half the month delivering inspirational speeches to corporations and nonprofit groups, the couple spend what little time they have going out for sushi or studying the Bible. Whitestone and McCallum hope to buy a home in Atlanta after their June wedding. But McCallum is more than understanding of his fiancée's hectic schedule. "It's not like I met the girl down the street," he says proudly. "I'm marrying Miss America."

JANICE MIN
JEFF SCHNAUFER in Orange County

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