PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG) - Mary Lou Race is the Queen of Conch. Every day as the sun is beginning to set, you can hear her either from the beach or her balcony sharing what is called the sunset ceremony.
Mary Lou Race, also known as the Queen of Conch. (WJHG)
"When the sun rises, the man above gives you another day. When the sun sets, you owe him tribute and salute four times for good luck and good health. When the sun first touches the water blow once," recited Race.
Her love for conch shell blowing began 20 years ago.
"You have to meet the right person and I met the right person," she said.
That right person was a man she affectionately called Captain Scuba, otherwise known as Bill Tant.
"He had many followers that would come down to St. Andrews because he knew right where to cut the end off the shell to make it a horn and he would teach people the sunset ceremony," said Race.
She was instantly hooked on the idea but it took a while to perfect her skills.
"You have to keep your lips closed like you're buzzing. Just like blowing a horn 'cause it is a horn," said Race. "I had never blown a horn so it took a while to get it down."
Different conchs make different sounds.
"It's the size and probably the opening has something to do with it as well," said Race.
Race has gotten so good at blowing the conch she's entered contests.
"I have been down there seven times and won twice," said Race.
Down there is Key West where they recently held the 57th Conch Shell Blowing Contest.
"They have different divisions. I won for the ladies division," said Race.
Last year's contest came with a bit of a twist for Race. Having lost her husband of 39 years a while back, her friends set her up with a man who had lost his wife.
"'You'd have fun with Mary Lou. She's in the red hat, she's a Parrothead, she's a lot of fun.' Well, in the background this lady's husband said, 'Oh, Rick, I don't think that's a good match. Mary Lou's a little crazy,'" said Race. "Rick said, 'Maybe that's what I need.'"
At the March 2018 Conch Shell Blowing Contest, both Mary Lou and Rick decided to enter in their respective divisions. After she competed, it was Rick's turn.
"I was up there taking a picture and I was heading back to my seat and then they called me back up there and I'm going, 'What's going on?' Next thing I know, he's down on his knee and he said, 'Mary Lou, I've known you long enough to know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?' I didn't know what to say so it was this automatic thing I raised up, he got up and we both just blew the conch shells and then I said yes," said Race.
Mary Lou and Rick's story has gotten the attention of a national publication.
"The Reader's Digest does an article every month called 'I won' and for some reason, I got a call," said Race. "So they did just a little article on winning the Conch Blowing Contest and winning the marriage proposal."
Aside from the fact that it's fun, Mary Lou says research shows blowing the conch also has another benefit.
"Blowing the conch shell can actually get rid of negative energy," said Race.
That's why every night you'll hear this symphony of one just as the sun begins to disappear.
"Thank you for another day in paradise," recited Race.
Race is often asked to blow the conch at weddings, grand openings, and other special occasions... even funerals!
Before you go out in search of your own conch, you need to know it is illegal to harvest them if you don't have a special license. Race bought her four shells at a special store in Key West that has that license.
If you're interested in getting in contact with Race to play at your special event you can find her information on her website.
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