Phyllis George, a former Miss America, First Lady of Kentucky and TV personality, died Thursday from complications from a blood disorder. She was 70.
George rose to stardom after the Texan was crowned Miss America in 1971. She used the platform to launch a career in television. George broke barriers in the sports broadcast industry as the first female sportscaster at a major network. In 1974 she joined CBS Sports as a co-host for the network’s NFL pregame show, broadcasting alongside Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy the Greek.
George also covered the Belmont and Preakness Stakes before moving on to the news side of the network in the 80s as a co-anchor for CBS Morning News.
Her television stardom also played a significant role in Kentucky politics. Ten days after she wed John Y. Brown, the Kentucky Fried Chicken magnate announced his intent to run for Governor. George played a prominent role in her husband’s campaign. The Governor at the time of the 1979 campaign, Julian Carroll, recalled George’s impact in a conversation with the Herald-Leader.
“With all due respect to my friend, John Y., Phyllis George Brown is the one who won that election,” said Carroll.
“We knew we were in trouble when we saw Phyllis on the campaign trail.” He added, “The crowds would come out to see her. You could not be around Phyllis and not have great affection for her. She had energy, charisma, beauty and was a strong people person.”
John Y. Brown served as Kentucky’s Governor for one term. The couple had two children together: Lincoln Tyler George Brown, a Lexington businessman, and Pamela Ashley Brown, a White House correspondent for CNN. Brown and George divorced in 1998.
The list of George’s contributions to the state are lengthy, most notably the creation of the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation, which is responsible for constructing The Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts in 1981. George was not from Kentucky, but she leaves a lasting impact on the state.