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Paul Downey wins Mr. Healdsburg crown

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 | Posted by

Retired banker Paul Downey is the new Mr. Healdsburg. Mr. Downey, 74, became the 10th man crowned as Mr. Healdsburg Saturday night at The Raven before a capacity crowd.

Paul Downey

Mr. Healdsburg is a beauty pageant parody that is the leading fundraiser each year for the Raven Performing Arts Theater, the 400-seat theater that plays host to a wide range of music, theater, movie and charity events.

Mr. Downey got a standing ovation for his stirring performance of Verde’s aria Di Provenza from La Traviata, in the talent portion of the event. He outlasted six other contestants, including local musicians Brandon Hassur and Chris Rovetti, who joined Downey as finalists.

“I came here with my wife 18 years ago and fell in love with this town,” said Downey, who donned a top hat and coat-and-tails for the Evening Wear portion of the event. “I saw this as my chance to give back to this great, great, wonderful town.”

The other contestants were winemaker Ronald Du Preez, chef Daniel Gene Bishop, server Mark McKenzie and firefighter Eric Smith.

The winner is chosen by a panel of five judges — Anne Mackenzie, Megan Baccitich, Faya Ashton, Pamela Deas and Melanie Gentry —  based on talent, evening wear, beach wear and interveiw competitions. Voting is also done by audience members and via the Internet.

The talent competition was especially fierce this year, led by Downey’s show-stopping performance. Hassur, the former front man for local band Crazy Famous, brought out his grandparents to dance as he played “Twist and Shout,” and Rovetti, who fronts his own band Rovetti and Meatballs and who played several string instruments throughout the evening, performed Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” on the violin.

Bistro Ralph’s popular server McKenzie, who sported a kilt for the evening wear and beach wear portion of the competition, dressed in full Shakespeare attire and sung “September Song” as the iconic comedian and performer Jack Benny. Firefighter Smith, whose grandfather Norm was the first-ever honorary Mr. Healdsburg, did a ribbon dance parody. Ravenous chef Bishop strutted to the James Bond theme in a comic piece he called “License to Grill,” and winemaker and South African Du Preez did a Zulu dance from his native country.

Downey was this year’s oldest contestant. He was a member of the legendary Yale University Whiffenpoofs. Only 14 senior Yale students are chosen each year to be members of the a cappella group, founded in 1909. Naturally, he listed his talent as “singer.”

Mr. Healdsburg occupies the post for a year, attending parades and community events as well as making local appearances. Last year’s winner Chris Herrod sang the song “My Way” to a video presentation of his year in the cape and crown before passing them to Downey.

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Ann Carranza,
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