- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mary Ann Mobley Collins lived in California for decades while starring in movies with Elvis Presley and others, but her daughter said the former Miss America always felt most at home in her native Mississippi.

“She may have traveled the world many times over, but she loved Mississippi the best,” Clancy Collins White said Monday at her mother’s funeral.

More than 100 relatives, friends and admirers gathered at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson to remember the singer, actress and documentary filmmaker who died of breast cancer Dec. 9. She was 77.

Collins White said her mother loved big celebrations, and for years had kept a folder with meticulous notes about the music, scripture and poetry she wanted at her own funeral. Mobley Collins - who was born in Biloxi and grew up in the Jackson suburb of Brandon - was buried in another suburb, Ridgeland, where she bought an extra cemetery plot so a bench could be placed next to her gravesite for people to sit and visit, her daughter said. Collins White joked it might be the first time for friends or family to get the last word with her mom.

“There was a reason she was affectionately called ‘the mouth of the South,’” her daughter said.

Brad Dye, a University of Mississippi friend who was lieutenant governor from 1980 to 1992, said Mobley brought pride to the state when she was crowned Miss America 1959.

“When Mary Ann was selected Miss America, the state of Mississippi was at one of its lowest ebbs,” said Dye, who stopped short of mentioning the state’s strained race relations during segregation.

Mobley Collins and her husband, actor Gary Collins, participated in several charitable events in Mississippi, including raising money for scholarships and for relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Collins died in 2012.

A retired Mississippi bishop of the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Clay F. Lee, recalled that several years ago, the couple showed up to sing “O, Holy Night” on Christmas Eve at Galloway United Methodist in Jackson, the church Mobley Collins’ mother attended. Although their appearance was unannounced, word had spread that they’d be there to sing, and the sanctuary was nearly full by the time they arrived.

“A lot of people wouldn’t take time to do that for any church, but Gary and Mary Ann sang, and sang magnificently,” Lee said.

In addition to Collins White, Mobley Collins is survived by another daughter, Melissa Collins; son Guy William Collins; two grandsons, Garrett and Gaston Collins; and a sister, Sandra Young.

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