Phyllis George, former Miss America who broke barriers for women in sports broadcasting, dies at 70

Former first lady of Kentucky was a Sunday fixture on the “NFL Today” for four seasons.

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Television Sportscaster Phyllis George arrives at the launch party for “She Made It: Women Creating Television and Radio” December 1, 2005 in New York City.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Phyllis George, a former Miss America, television personality and ex-wife of Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. has died in Lexington after an illness.

George, who had been hospitalized at the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler hospital, was 70.

She died Thursday from complications from a blood disorder she had developed in her mid-30s but had managed for many years, Brown told The (Louisville) Courier-Journal on Saturday.

“Phyllis was a great asset to Kentucky,” said Brown, who said he had maintained an amicable relationship with his ex-wife. He said he especially valued their four years as governor and first lady.

“We had a great partnership,” he said. “I think we enjoyed every single day.”

Brown said the couple’s two children had been with George in recent weeks providing care and support.

“We’re sorry to lose her,” he said. “She’s been a big part of our lives.”

A native of Denton, Texas, George was a student at North Texas State University when, in 1971, she won the Miss America title that would change her life, leading to dozens of national appearances during her one-year reign before she settled in New York to try to break into television.

In 1972, she joined the cast of The NFL Today, co-hosting pregame shows with Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy “The Greek” (Snyder) for four seasons. She was one of the first women to have a national role in sports television.

“Phyllis didn’t receive nearly enough credit for opening the sports broadcasting door for the dozens of talented women who took her lead and soared,” Musburger said Saturday on Twitter. “Folks — men and women — were comfortable with Phyllis talking about their favorite sport.”

In early 1985, after her four years as Kentucky’s first lady, she became a co-host with Bill Kurtis of CBS Morning News, a disappointing run for George that lasted only eight months.


CBS Morning News anchor Phyllis George and cohost Bill Kurtis in March 1985


After taking off about 10 years to raise the couple’s two young children, Lincoln and Pamela, Brown would return to television and cable work, hosting interviews, shopping shows and promoting crafts.

In an 1998 interview with The Courier-Journal she said was happy with the new roles and her new life in New York, where she lived in an apartment overlooking Central Park.

“I’ve gone through a lot,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of life experiences. ... From here on out, I want every day to count.”

She once said that her favorite place on Earth was “Kentucky in the fall” and had moved back to Kentucky in recent years, settling in Lexington, where John Y. Brown Jr. and their son, Lincoln Brown, a technology entrepreneur, also live. Their daughter, Pamela Brown, a CNN news reporter, lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

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