Phyllis Ann George, the 50th winner of the iconic Miss America pageant, pioneering sportscaster, and former First Lady of Kentucky, died Friday, May 14, following a long struggle with a blood disorder.
George was born June 25, 1949 in Denton, Texas. She attended the University of North Texas for three years until being crowned Miss Texas in 1970. At that time, Texas Christian University awarded scholarships to Miss Texas honorees, and as a result, she left UNT to enroll at TCU, where she studied classical piano until she won the Miss America crown in the fall of 1971.
Her 1974 role as Allen Funt’s co-emcee of the Candid Camera show launched her career in television. That same year, CBS recruited her to join Irv Cross, Brent Musburger and Jimmy the Greek on the NFL Today’s pre game show, where she co-hosted live pregame shows before National Football League games.
She was one of the first women to have a nationally prominent role reporting for television sports. She also covered horse racing events, including the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. In 1978 George became the host of the entertainment show People, the television version of People magazine. In 1985 she co-anchored the CBS Morning News show, where she interviewed prominent guests, including then-First Lady Nancy Reagan.
George was briefly married to Hollywood producer Robert Evans, whom she divorced in 1978. In 1979, she married businessman John Y. Brown, who owned Kentucky Fried chicken and later the Boston Celtics basketball team. George served as First Lady of Kentucky when Brown became the state’s governor. During her marriage to Brown, she had two children, entrepreneur Lincoln Tyler George Brown and CNN White House corespondent Pamela Ashley Brown.
An avid collector of folk and traditional art, First Lady George founded The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. George championed Kentucky craftspeople and artisans, and introduced them to the nation, first with a series of shows on QVC, then in three books.
In 1980, retail emporium Bloomingdale’s opened a very successful in-store boutique offering Kentucky’s crafts. Department stores Marshall Fields and Neiman Marcus soon followed. During her time as Kentucky’s First Lady, George took on the daunting task of renovating the crumbling Governor’s Mansion, using only Kentucky craftsmen for the work. The mansion is now heralded as a Kentucky landmark.
George was a founding member of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship. She also founded Chicken By George, which she sold to consumer giant, Hormel Foods in 1988. In 1991 the National Association of Women Business Owners named her the Celebrity Women Business Owner of the Year.
In 2003 she created Phyllis George Beauty, a line of cosmetics and skincare sold though the television shopping network HSN.
She authored five books, three about crafts, one on dieting, The I Love America Diet, published in 1982 and Never Say Never in 2002.
In addition to her two children, George was grandmother to Benny Wright, age 2, and Vivienne Wright, 8 weeks. No memorial plans have been revealed.
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