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Raquel Riley Thomas

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Raquel approached Elite Modeling Agency with the intent of becoming one of their referral photographers, but the camera switched its focus to her. “I went into the interview as a photographer but came out as a model,” she recalled.

Raquel Riley Thomas, a decorated U.S. Army officer who was honorably discharged in 2002, has always been an accomplished individual who seems to write her diary in advance. She completed high school early and she earned her college degree in record time. She knows what she wants out of life and is unafraid to pursue that end. Her impressive list of credentials outside of her dedicated service to our country includes business owner, producer, pageant queen and activist.

Born in LaPlata, Maryland, and now residing in the D.C. metro area, Raquel began her military career at the tender age of 17. “I skipped second grade,” she noted, referring to her underage status at the time. “I joined the Army Reserves initially. I had to get a signature from my parents to do so as I was not 18 at the time. I went to basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and then I went on to advanced training.”

The Army placed a camera in her hands and assigned her the role of photojournalist 46Q. From there she relocated to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana, where essentially the seed was planted for the path she would pursue in life.

After spending a year in Korea in 1995, she received an ROTC scholarhip that afforded her the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Hampton University in Virginia, a tenacious endeavor she completed in three years. After receiving her degree, she immediately received her enlistment into the military as a “distinguished military graduate.” Before the ink had dried on her degree, she packed her bags and headed for officer training school in Aberdeen, Maryland. Subsequently, she relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia, and upon her military discharge, she reconnected to her love of photography, starting her own photography business.

Raquel approached Elite Modeling Agency with the intent of becoming one of their referral photographers, but the camera switched its focus to her. “I went into the interview as a photographer but came out as a model,” she recalled. As she was showing the agency director, Victoria Duruh, her photography portfolio, the conversation unexpectedly turned toward Raquel’s undeniable natural beauty and model-like physique.

Long story short, Elite hired Raquel not as a photographer, but as a model. That path led her to work with top agencies Ford and Directions. Her beauty graced luxury lifestyle ads for private planes, resorts, five-star restaurants and yacht companies. She was also the cover model for the Coca-Cola brand. The variety of commercial work she did whetted her appetite for acting, too, and a small role as an extra in the movie Motives, starring Vivica Fox and Shemar Moore, led her to become the body double for Ms. Fox. Raquel also did body double work for actress Kimberly Elyse in Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

The shift in her life began shortly thereafter, and it proved to be a natural transition. A few years ago, when her oldest daughter, Maria, now eight, was watching a Disney movie, she turned to Raquel and inquired, “Why are there no princesses that look like me?” Raquel assuaged her daughter’s feelings by reminding her she was pretty as a princess. Two months later, while watching the Miss America pageant on TV, a light bulb went off. “I’m going to be my daughter’s princess!” she mused. But when she discovered applicants for the pageant had to be a certain age and single, her focus turned to the Mrs. America pageant, starting with the Mrs. Maryland event. However, it was not just a matter of applying.

“I trained hard physically over the course of two months,” she emphasized. “I was in total shock and disbelief when I won, but I was able to return to the hotel room and present the crown to my daughter, now a princess.” After taking the Mrs. Maryland America crown in 2010, she won first runner-up that same year in the Mrs. America pageant. However, why stop there?

In the fall of 2011, Raquel established her veteran-owned company, An Officer and a Gentlewoman, LLC. Under this professional umbrella, she purchased the rights to the Mrs. DC America pageant; as its owner/operator, she is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization. “I have come full circle in my career and I’m now behind the scenes once again,” she observed. “I love being behind the camera, but I somehow always managed to be moved up to the front.”

Raquel continues to put forces in motion with a host of other endeavors, including writing a book on leadership skills and working on a fitness DVD with Stacy Adams of Fitness Together. She also has her sights on hosting her own talk radio show. She balances her business-driven mind with a philanthropic heart and regularly contributes to many organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (in honor of her mom who took her own life in 2013), and Luke’s Wings, a non-profit veteran’s organization.

Raquel enjoys her wonderful marriage to attorney, Ron Thomas, and they are blessed with four children in their blended family.

For more information on Raquel and to apply to be a contestant for the 2015 Mrs. DC pageant, go online at