Former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst: 1991-2022
Cheslie Kryst, the Charlotte lawyer with deep ties to the Carolinas and later became the 2019 Miss USA, died by suicide in January 2022.
Roughly 300 people convened inside the church Cheslie Kryst attended in college and as an adult to honor the former Miss USA and Charlotte lawyer’s legacy and life.
Kryst, 30, died by suicide at her New York apartment building in late January.
Family and friends offered kind words about Kryst in front of the hundreds in the crowd at Elevation Blakeney, and thousands watching online, Friday night.
“Cheslie throughout her life sowed many seeds through her work, her philanthropy, her advocacy, and most importantly, her genuine care for others,” Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins, said at the public celebration of life. “I know those seeds will continue to bear fruit for many years.”
Kryst was “unapologetically herself” and doubled down on her beliefs, regardless of whether other people liked it, Simpkins said.
Kryst believed in the empowerment of women through clothing, helping the wrongly incarcerated, and being an advocate, according to Simpkins.
“In life we encounter ordinary people, but there are rare cases when we meet extraordinary people,” Edward Watson, a formerly incarcerated man who Kryst helped free in 2020. “I needed help, the Lord sent the help that I needed.”
Kryst, her stepfather David Simpkins and attorney MiAngel Cody helped reduce Watson’s sentence, allowing him to become a free man after spending 25 years in prison for crack trafficking and weapons charges.
“Cheslie preached the sermon just in how she showed up in the world, who she was there for and what she called us to do.” Cody said. “I always found her to be curriculum for how to be an attorney, how to be an advocate and how to be a human being.”
During the slideshows and videos playing throughout the memorial, Kryst was always well dressed, which is something she prided herself on as an ambassador for global nonprofit Dress for Success.
“Be like Cheslie, honor Cheslie and share your gifts,” Kelly Barr O’Conner, executive director of Dress for Success Charlotte, said. “Sweet Cheslie rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon you. You have shared your light with all of us and we’ll take it from here.”
A number of honors have been bestowed upon Kryst following her death, including a scholarship from Wake Forest University named after her that will be awarded annually to a Black, indigenous or law student of color from the Carolinas.
“Her impact, her legacy and her impact will live into perpetuity,” LaToya Evans, the Kryst family’s spokeswoman, said.