Phyllis George, 70, the Denton native and North Texas alum who went on to become Miss America, a groundbreaking sportscaster, actress and First Lady of Kentucky, died May 14, in Lexington, Kentucky.
“Phyllis George was a pioneer and an American icon,” UNT President Neal Smatresk says. “Our UNT community was proud she was a member of our flock as she was an incredible example for women everywhere. We appreciated her support, and we will miss her.”
George was a student at North Texas from 1967 to 1970 – where she was a Yucca beauty in 1970, and active in Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and Angel Flight, the women’s auxiliary of Air Force ROTC.
She was crowned Miss America in 1971. Her ceremony was memorable because the crown dropped from her head.
“Stones went flying, the banner dropped, my hair was sticking up; I looked like a ragamuffin,” she told Randy E. Pruett (’77) in the book 75th Miss Texas Celebration: A Dream As Big As Texas – but noted that it served as a good introduction to the public.
The campus was excited about the news, too. Roy Busby (’59, ’66 M.B.A.), Regents professor of journalism, remembers when she appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1971 – and the News Service department decided to congratulate her by listing every student’s name in the telegram.
“At that time, we had 7,000 to 8,000 students, and we stayed up all night typing the names,” Busby says.
She then co-hosted the TV show Candid Camera and went on to become one of the first women in TV sportscasting when she co-hosted The NFL Today from 1975 to 1978 and from 1980 to 1984.
She became First Lady of Kentucky when her then-husband John Y. Brown Jr. served as the state’s governor from 1979 to 1983. She also anchored CBS Morning News in 1985 and appeared in the 2000 movie Meet the Parents. She even had her own food line, Chicken By George, and a makeup and skincare brand. She was named a Distinguished UNT Alumna in 1977 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Media Arts in 1998. George most recently visited the UNT campus in 2014, when she was honored as an Emerald Eagle for a Lifetime of Contributions to the American Landscape. She was an honorary lifetime member of the UNT Alumni Association.
George was well-known on campus, and alumni shared their memories following her passing.
“She was not only a beauty, but always the nicest person on campus,” Emily Klement (’92, ’94 M.Ed., ’12 Ed.D.), chairwoman of the UNT Alumni Association, wrote on Twitter. “She greeted everyone with that stunning smile and warmth.”