Phyllis George

Saturday 25th of June 1949 - Thursday 14th of May 2020

Phyllis George

Services

Visitation

May 23, 2020 (1:30pm - 4:30pm)

The Kentucky Castle

230 Pisgah Pike, Versailles, Kentucky

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PHYLLIS GEORGE- 1949-2020

Phyllis George, a devoted mother and grandmother who served as the nation’s 50th Miss America before shattering glass ceilings in broadcasting, politics and business, passed away on May 14, 2020 at the age of 70. Her loving children, Lincoln and Pamela, were by her side.

Known for her remarkable inner and outer beauty, her quick wit and her deep intellect, Phyllis made a place for herself in America’s homes and hearts the moment her crown fell from her head shortly after being named Miss America 1971. With the grace and practicality that would define her life, she bent over, picked up her tiara and kept walking as the crowd applauded. She was tapped as the co-host of “The New Candid Camera” in 1974 and the next year became a pioneer in broadcasting—and the country’s most famous female sportscaster—when she was hired to-cohost “The NFL Today” on CBS. She would go on to co-anchor the CBS Morning News, serve as First Lady of Kentucky and create two successful companies.

Yet despite her storied career, she viewed her roles as mother, daughter, sister, aunt and “GeeGee” to her two grandchildren, as her most important. She took pride in her family, whom she loved deeply.
Phyllis was born in Denton, Texas on June 25, 1949 to James Robert and Diantha Louise Cogdell George. And while she eventually left her small town, it never left her. Phyllis credited her success to her loving parents, whom were affectionately known as "Bob Bob" and "Grammy". She once explained her connection to her hometown, saying "who knew the little girl growing up there would do all the different things that I've done? I do believe it had to do with my foundation, loving parents, supportive parents, the parents who were always there for me and my brother, Robbie." Phyllis’s father, Bob, was an oil distributor. His wife, Grammy, a homemaker and a department store bookkeeper. Phyllis said even though they weren't rich financially, they were rich in love. They made sure she felt like she had everything and paid more than they could probably afford for classical piano lessons with the renowned pianist, Dr. Isabel Scionti. Phyllis quickly became a prodigy. By the age of 11 she was beating pianists nearly twice her age in recording competitions. Phyllis had big dreams of one day playing at Carnegie Hall. Instead, she put her musical talent to work when she entered the pageant circuit. In 1971 she won the Miss America crown playing "Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head."

Phyllis had a knack for making anyone, no matter their story, feel as if they were the most important person in the world.  Everywhere she went, she built lasting friendships, many of which she maintained throughout her life. Her genuine curiosity, combined with her magnetic smile and huge heart, made everyone who was graced by her presence feel as if they were her best friend. Her love of the people she met, and her deep interest in their personal stories, shined through in her interviews with athletes, filling a void that had previously existed in televised sports coverage. She was lauded for asking questions to athletes that went beyond their performance on the field, getting them to open up in ways they never had. 

It was that same dynamism that led local reporters to affectionately call her "fly paper Phyllis” when she accompanied her husband, John Y. Brown, Jr., on campaign stops during his run for Governor of Kentucky in 1979. It was Phyllis, they said, who attracted the crowds. 
Just as Kentucky embraced Phyllis for the graciousness she extended to everyone she met, she wholeheartedly embraced Kentucky for its people, its artisans, and its natural scenic beauty.  She could just as easily sit down on the front porch swing at the house of a basket maker on some little country road in small town Kentucky as she could host a dinner for four U.S. presidents at the Kentucky governor's mansion.

As First Lady, she took great interest in the people and traditions of Kentucky. She championed the state’s artisans, founded the Kentucky Art & Craft Foundation, and oversaw the renovation of the Kentucky Governors Mansion.  
She would use all of those skills to later create “Chicken by George,” a line of marinated chicken breasts which she sold to Hormel, and Phyllis George Beauty, a cosmetic line marketed on HSN.             
                                         
Phyllis was never happier than when she was surrounded by her family. Her children fondly called her “Hurricane Phyl” because she was a force of nature with an indomitable spirit and zest for life. She was quick with a joke, willing to share her wisdom and always happy to give a hug. She quietly and courageously fought a rare blood disorder for 35 years, never acknowledging her pain to others, always taking on adversity with a “never say never” attitude and boundless optimism. If anyone tried to mention anything negative, she would immediately shut them down. That can-do spirit allowed Phyllis to defy the odds and live much longer than any doctor had ever expected.

In her final years, Phyllis enjoyed spending quiet time at her home in Lexington, Kentucky where she found joy in slowing down - spending time with friends, watching her daughter report on CNN, and hearing about her son’s business successes.  She was also a woman of deep faith, who loved nothing more than having her two grown children lie in with her in bed or lounge on the couch in her 'cozy nook'. She was thrilled to watch videos of her two grandchildren, Benny and Vivienne, and loved singing “You Are my Sunshine” to them over FaceTime. 

Phyllis George lived a remarkable life. She gave graciously, shared unselfishly and loved completely. We  have no doubt she is now watching her family from above, where raindrops will no longer keep falling on her head and her spirit will be shining brightly for eternity.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to The Phyllis George Memorial Fund.

The Phyllis George Memorial Fund 
Care of Bluegrass Community Foundation  
499 E High St., Suite 112, 
Lexington, KY 40507 
or online at https://bgcf.givingfuel.com/phyllisgeorge. 

Donations will be dedicated to the causes most important to Phyllis: Funding research for her rare blood disorder and children in need.   

A visitation will be held at The Kentucky Castle, 230 Pisgah Pike, Versailles, KY 40383, on Saturday May 23, 2020 from 1:30pm-4:30pm.  Anyone that has known Phyllis, Lincoln, or Pamela through the years is welcome to attend.  Strict Guidelines consistent with Covid-19 restrictions will be adhered to.  Each visitor will be responsible for their own mask.   

Additionally, there will be a small private service on Monday May 25, 2020 at 3pm. The private service will also be available for live viewing at www.KET.org.

All are welcome to sign the virtual guestbook and leave condolences by texting “milwardfunerals” to 606-328-6751.

Guest Book

Beth Burton

says

Phyllis George is an iconic woman admired by all who knew her. I'm always proud to say she was a student at my Alma Mater, NTSU, class of 1987. May she rest in heaven. Prayers for all who loved her.

2 days ago

Anthony Holloway

says

She was and is such a classy lady

4 days ago

Ernest H McCray

says

Pamela, Lincoln, & Family, On behalf of the Denton High School 1967 senior class please understand how shocked we were to hear of Phyl's passing. I was a friend from 1-12th, with memories of her piano performance in 5th grade, student council &"favorites" skits in DJH, and of course her love for cheerleading & football in Denton High School. We had our picture made together in the 9th grade for the favorites honors, and "Bob Bob" played golf with my dad weekly! Phyllis always thought of others first and made me feel like I was the special one... what a wonderful example of kindness for others, who we will all miss. Prayers.

5 days ago

Ernest H McCray

says

Speaking for my entire Denton High School 1967 Senior Class we were honored to spend time with Phyllis. I was friends from 1-12 grade & beyond. elementary junior high and high school with Phil remembering the days in 5thgrade where she played the piano for us Junior High in high school honors favorite elections and certainly her love for cheerleading and football! It was wonderful when she was elected Miss Texas 1970 and Miss America 1971

5 days ago

Bill McCann, Jr.

says

Lincoln and Pam, I am so sorry to hear of the death of your mother. Phyllis was one of a kind. I was, and am, a great admirer of her for the gracious way she served as First Lady of Kentucky and for the great way she was able to put people at ease, even me. I had hoped to come tomorrow to be there in person. Yet the more I think about it, the more reluctant I am. I am in the age group most at danger from Covid-19 and large crowds of unmasked people endanger folks like me. So I will convey my feelings this way tonight and in person at a later family occasion. Stay safe. Be well. My thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time, and always.

1 week ago

Former Kentuckian

says

Thank you for promoting Kentucky crafts.

1 week ago