In Rebekah Hodgson’s earliest memory of lobstering, she’s on her father’s boat and they’ve just anchored off of Jonesboro’s Looks Point to visit her great uncle Scott, who gave her a banana.
“I must have been about four years old,” recalls Hodgson, now 32. “I remember getting back on the boat, going up in the cabin, and sitting in the thick fog with my father.”
Hodgson’s first memory from the clam flats includes a cut finger that almost put her off clamming altogether, but it didn’t. Today she’s a lobsterman, a clam harvester, a military wife, a mother, and Mrs. Maine International 2022.
“They wanted to know if it was dangerous and what got me into lobstering.”
In her day job, she can be found in classic Downeast attire—jeans, T-shirt, boots, and a ponytail. But last month she was on the runway of the national Mrs. International pageant in Kingsport, Tenn., wearing evening gowns, high heels, and her signature sparkling lobster earrings, purchased especially for the occasion.
“I almost didn’t buy them but I’m glad that I did because they really brought the Maine brand to life,” says Hodgson. “All the girls commented on the lobster earrings. I said, ‘Would you expect anything else from Mrs. Maine?’ Everyone knew me as the lobster fisherman by the end of the week, which was the goal, to bring us recognition.”
Hodgson’s love of pageants began at a young age in Eastport, when she became Junior Miss Fourth of July, and grew during high school when she chose the International pageant system.
“Each pageant is like a brand of clothing,” she says. “You pick your favorite and you run with it. I chose this one because everyone has a story to tell and they want to hear that story. It really wasn’t hard to prepare for because I live the life I want to project.”
Because of the pandemic, Maine didn’t host a statewide pageant this year. But after meeting with the pageant board, Hodgson received a phone call saying they wanted to send her to the national competition.
“My jaw literally dropped,” says Hodgson. “I said ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ It’s my dream to represent this state, and to break that mold, to show that you don’t have to be a ‘Pageant Patty’ to do this.”
Hodgson is more of a hands-on pageant queen. Her love of family and community has drawn new life into her Washington County hometown of Jonesboro, and created widespread support for her two biggest passion projects—defeating cancer and saving the Jonesboro Grange Hall.
Two years ago she organized the first Crush Cancer 5K using the Grange as a home base. The road race raises funds for the Ellsworth-based Beth Wright Cancer Center, where she now serves on the board of directors.
The race was a way for her to deal with her father’s cancer diagnosis.
“Instead of being mad and stuck in self-doubt, I had to channel my anger and sadness into something,” says Hodgson. “My father has always told me, you always help the next person—it’s not about yourself, it’s about the greater good of the community.”
Hodgson’s father, John Cox Jr., is cancer free today and still clamming in Jonesboro where he’s the town-appointed clam manager. He also serves his community as Grange master, leading the local chapter of the national Patrons of Husbandry, founded in 1867. Hodgson’s mother and brother are also members.
To save the local Grange from extinction, last year Cox succeeded in convincing his daughter and 12 others to join him as members of Jonesboro Grange No. 357, which had undergone a long period of dormancy.
With Hodgson’s help, this year the Jonesboro Grange has already hosted 14 fundraising events. The Grange now has a well but no plumbing and money for a new roof.
During the national Mrs. International pageant, Hodgson says the judges weren’t as interested in her work to crush cancer as they were in her work as a lobsterman.
“I knew I would get questions about that, and I did,” said Hodgson, who did not win the national title, but made friendships to last a lifetime. “They wanted to know if it was dangerous and what got me into lobstering. They even asked if it was like what we see on The Deadliest Catch, with the waves.”
From Monday through Thursday, while her husband Garrett is at work on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Tackle in Rockland, Hodgson is a full-time mom to Jase, 4, and Kennedy, 3. But when he returns to Jonesboro, she heads out to pull traps from her boat, F/V Last Two Cents, or to the Jonesboro clam flats, where she and her brother Andrew are often working near their father.
“It really took him getting cancer for me to see how truly blessed I am. Without Dad, I wouldn’t be the lobsterman or clam harvester I am today,” she says. “He gets it—don’t be greedy, always help the person behind you, give because you can’t take it with you when you go. Leave a legacy that may not make you famous, but be remembered for the impact you made on your community, family, and friends.”