Mayberry’s Thelma Lou turning 90

By Tom Joyce -

Betty Lynn (center) is shown at the Andy Griffith Museum earlier this month with Mayberry fans Ted and Carla Oellerich of Hephzibah, Georgia.

Monday will be a special day for Mayberry — that’s when Betty Lynn, a Mount Airy resident who played Thelma Lou on “The Andy Griffith Show” — turns 90.

That occasion is to be celebrated with a daylong slate of activities organized by the Surry Arts Council. These will include an autograph session with Lynn, a special screening of a movie where she appeared with Bette Davis, the unveiling of a new Betty Lynn exhibit at the Andy Playhouse and more.

Lynn said Friday she is happy about reaching this milestone in her life and excited about Monday’s festivities.

“It’s amazing that I’ve lived this long,” joked the actress who was born on Aug. 29, 1926, in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I’m grateful to God that I’m alive.”

Lynn also is thankful that the Surry Arts County has planned Monday’s events to celebrate her 90th birthday in a special way in her adopted hometown of Mount Airy. She has lived here for nearly a decade, deciding to move from California after visiting Mount Airy during the annual Mayberry Days celebration, and now makes frequent public appearances to greet fans.

“I really am very happy where I am,” Lynn said. “I’m glad I’m in Mount Airy — it’s been a very special time in my life.”

That same sense of appreciation is shared by people in the community.

“It is so wonderful to have Betty, one of the most important folks from ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ living here in Mount Airy where she can meet and greet fans regularly,” Tanya Jones, Surry Arts Council executive director, said in a statement announcing Monday’s birthday observance for Lynn.

“She’s been an enormous advocate for the arts, and we wanted to show her how much she means to us,” Jones added.

Monday’s schedule

• The birthday events get under way Monday with the autograph session at the Andy Griffith Museum, to begin at 12:30 p.m. and run for three hours.

• At 5 p.m., fans can have dinner with Betty Lynn – by reservation only – at The Loaded Goat in downtown Mount Airy. That eatery, named after a popular episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” is one of Lynn’s favorite restaurants in Mount Airy.

• At 6:45 p.m., the festivities shift to the historic Earle Theatre downtown for the screening of “June Bride,” a film released in 1948. Lynn will talk briefly about her role in the movie, and David Browning, also known as the Mayberry Deputy, will make a special presentation to the “birthday girl.”

Tickets for the 7 p.m. movie cost $6.

The admission fee for the Andy Griffith Museum is $6 and fans can buy an autographed photo of Lynn for $10. While reservations are required for the birthday dinner at The Loaded Goat, participants can order from the regular menu.

New exhibit

One of the key activities Monday will be the unveiling of the Betty Lynn exhibit next door to the museum on the lower level of the Andy Griffith Playhouse. This will occur after the scheduled three-hour autograph session.

Although most fans know Betty Lynn as the brown-eyed beauty who portrayed Deputy Barney Fife’s girlfriend on “The Andy Griffith Show” from 1961-66, she has a long list of additional television, movie and other roles to her credit, which are represented in the exhibit.

It is a comprehensive showcase of Lynn’s career, including memorabilia from her USO tour in World War II, Broadway shows, various Hollywood movies and artifacts from her role as Thelma Lou.

“We have a lot of items from her career and wanted to feature her because she has been such an important member of our community,” Jones, the Surry Arts Council official, explained regarding the unveiling of the exhibit.

“Betty will have lived here 10 years on Jan. 17. She’s been a wonderful ambassador for our community. She’s hugely important to Mayberry fans. We wanted to honor her and we thought her 90th birthday would be a good time to do it.”

Lynn said Friday she believes she was brought here for a reason, and while “Andy Griffith Show” fans from both near and far have enjoyed meeting her, she also credits them for keeping her energized and making her golden years special.

“They’re wonderful — they love that show and that’s what it is,” she said of the enthusiasm fueling the long-running Mayberry phenomenon, which is expected to be on full display during Monday’s 90th birthday celebration.

“I’m looking forward to it, I’m going to enjoy every minute and I think it will be great,” the veteran actress said.

“You don’t turn 90 every day.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Betty Lynn (center) is shown at the Andy Griffith Museum earlier this month with Mayberry fans Ted and Carla Oellerich of Hephzibah, Georgia. Lynn (center) is shown at the Andy Griffith Museum earlier this month with Mayberry fans Ted and Carla Oellerich of Hephzibah, Georgia.

By Tom Joyce

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