Longtime Chapel Hill resident, community leader and former model Georgia Carroll Kyser died Friday, leaving behind a legacy of beauty, elegance and dedication.
Kyser died at her residence at the Cedars of Chapel Hill Retirement Community. She was 91.
“She was such a gracious and gentle person but very committed to what is good and right for people, and she lived that life,” said former UNC-system President Bill Friday, whose wife, Ida, was one of Kyser’s closest friends.
“She was a very accomplished lady.”
Kyser launched a modeling career in the 1930s and 1940s, when she worked as a John Robert Powers model and cover girl in New York.
She stopped modeling when she moved to Hollywood, where she became an actress and met 1928 UNC graduate and big-time bandleader Kay Kyser.
“They met during World War II doing shows for the troops,” said her daughter Kimberly Kyser, who lives in Chapel Hill. “People in Hollywood would get in buses to go to the desert and do shows for the troops that were stationed there getting ready to go out to the Pacific.”
The couple married soon after they met in 1944.
Though Kimberly Kyser said her mother never considered herself an actress, “Gorgeous Georgia Carroll,” as she was called, made a name for herself.
“She had little parts in a lot of famous movies,” Kimberly Kyser said. “She was the leading lady in two of my father’s movies: ‘Carolina Blues’ and ‘Around the World.’”
When Kay Kyser decided to retire from the spotlight, the family moved to Chapel Hill in 1951 and settled into a home on Franklin Street.
“We had a lot of fun growing up in Chapel Hill with our mother and our father, who was very funny,” Kimberly Kyser said. “Mother made such a pretty home for us.
“Everybody wanted to come to our house to hang out.”
Georgia Kyser began taking one class each semester at the University, seeking a degree.
“What was interesting about that is she brought into our house all the things she was learning,” Kimberly Kyser said.
The family lived down the road from Bill and Ida Friday, who lived at the corner of Raleigh Road and Franklin Street in the house reserved for the UNC-system president.
Georgia Kyser and Ida Friday became fast friends, Bill Friday said.
“It began when Mrs. Friday was in an art class, and Mrs. Kyser came in and was auditing it,” he said. “Mrs. Friday said, ‘You shouldn’t audit it, you should take it.’
“That friendship lasted for half a century.”
Together, the two founded the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill in 1972.
The society, located at the Horace Williams House on Rosemary Street, operates a revolving fund for buying and improving endangered historic properties.
It also works with the town to establish historic districts and document historic buildings, landscapes and structures.
Ernest Dollar, the preservation society’s director, said he feels honored to have worked with Georgia Kyser, who stayed involved with the group into her 80s.
“She was a drop-dead bombshell,” Dollar said. “Even up into her 90s, she was still gorgeous.”
And the nation was reminded of Georgia Kyser’s good looks in 2007, when SPAM celebrated its 70th anniversary by releasing limited-edition tins with retro labels.
“They went and found this picture of an old-timey lady, and it was Georgia Kyser,” Dollar said.
Kimberly Kyser said her mother’s face has started coming up for use in many products recently as the copyrights for her modeling photographs expire.
“Eighteen years ago I went into a Macy’s in Atlanta, and there was a whole wall of my mother’s face in frames,” she said. “They just liked her face. They didn’t know who it was.”
Georgia Kyser is preceded in death by her husband, Kay, and a daughter, Carroll. She is survived by her daughters Kimberly and Amanda and five grandchildren.
The family plans to hold a celebration of life service in Chapel Hill in two weeks.
The location has not yet been determined.
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