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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The 64th Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival is in full bloom. Today the queen got to know the Port City. Queen Heather French Henry and her entourage toured some important places throughout Wilmington, including the Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

“I think it’s really nice that they all support me,” patient Catherine Carter said.

Carter’s hospital room was the first stop on the queen’s tour. Carter was diagnosed with diabetes Monday. Her mom Stella said the unexpected visit was a wonderful surprise, and the Carter family can’t wait to enjoy almost everything about the festival.

“We love our funnel cake, which we won’t be having this year,” Stella said.

“It’s really fun for our patients to be able to experience the Azalea Festival from their hospital bed, you know, not able to maybe get to a particular festivity,” NHRMC Chief Nurse Executive Mary Ellen Bonczek said. “It brightens their day.”

Queen Heather enjoyed the nurturing atmosphere.

“It really just warms your heart, and I’m just honored to be able to meet some of these children and their parents, because truly they are heroes, and they have to deal with those life and death situations every day,” she said.

From the children’s hospital to a school full of artistic children, Queen Azalea and her entourage toured Snipes Academy, where students decorated the hallways with artwork representing all the aspects of the Azalea Festival.

“Snipes is a good school, and it’s very pretty and big, so of course they would want to come here,” student Brianna Hawkes said.

The queen is an artist herself with her own fashion line.

“How perfect for our students to know that whatever they learn in elementary school can carry them into future careers and aspirations,” Snipes assistant principal Jennifer Sanders said.

Hawkes said the entourage that arrived at school made an impact.

“They’re just my inspiration, and they’re very gorgeous and pretty,” Hawkes said.

Queen Heather said royalty is about more than just a pretty face; it’s about inspiring others to become the princes and princesses of their own fairy tales.

Henry says serving as Queen Azalea is a lot like reigning as Miss America, which she won in 2000 representing her home state of Kentucky.


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