Her career spanned nearly four decades at WHAS-TV and radio. The community mourns the loss of broadcast and Crusade pioneer Phyllis Knight Gifford.
Read about her life
Below is the obituary as published on the Courier-Journal’s Web site Monday, October 27, 2008.
Phyllis Knight Gifford
Phyllis Knight Gifford, the popular Louisville radio and television personality known to her audience as Phyllis Knight, died this morning after a brief illness. She was 81.
One of the first female broadcasters in Louisville, Knight started as a radio show host, then advanced at WHAS to Kentucky’s highest-ranking newswoman as a television reporter in the 1970s before becoming the first full-time executive director of the WHAS Crusade for Children.
A talk show host on WHAS-TV for 13 years, Knight interviewed people from Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she described as “most gracious,” to entertainers such as Minnie Pearl, “the most fun person.”
She interviewed Harry Truman, whom she later said gave “one-word answers” to every question, and Cesar Romero, “probably the most handsome and sexiest one I ever interviewed,” she said in a Courier-Journal story.
Knight came to Louisville in 1955, hired to be women’s director at WHAS by Samuel H. Gifford, who was an on-air personality and executive for WHAS for more than 30 years. The two married in 1957.
She was named “Outstanding Woman in Radio and Television for 1957,” the highest award for a female broadcaster in the country at the time, for her special health series on cervical cancer — a topic not publicly, if even privately, discussed at the time.
After her health campaign, the Jefferson County Cancer Survey Project received 12 times more Pap smear slides in its laboratory from doctors than it had before.
Knight won a second Golden Mike Award in 1963 for a series on public misconceptions about the procedure for adopting children. Again her report brought about changes: adoptions in Louisville increased by 36 percent and placement of “problem children” increased 107 percent within a year.
In 1976, she became the first full-time executive director and producer of the WHAS Crusade for Children. “It was almost like being given a job to love your children,” Knight said of the appointment. She had been involved with every Crusade, many produced by her husband, except two: the first one in 1954 because she wasn’t in Louisville yet and another when one of her daughters was born.
In 1981, when she announced her retirement after 26 years at WHAS-TV and Radio, the Crusade raised more than $1.5 million with help from 120 fire departments.