Mayberry Days tribute honors ‘true gentleman’
by Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
Not only was Emmett Forrest a lifelong friend of Andy Griffith, they also share the distinction of leaving behind a Mayberry legacy that will keep their memories alive for years.
While a treasure trove of television episodes and movies remain from Griffith’s body of work, Forrest is remembered for a vast collection of memorabilia that formed the basis of the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy.
That was highlighted during a hometown tribute for Forrest at Blackmon Amphitheatre Sunday morning, held as the 24th-annual Mayberry Days festival wound down. A huge crowd covered the hillside for the event that remembered Forrest in words and song.
Though his love of collecting Griffith memorabilia was a hallmark of his life, Sunday was also a time to honor the man who was Emmett Forrest. He died on Jan. 12 at age 85, six months after the death of his friend Andy.
“Emmett was such a special man,” Maggie Peterson Mancuso, the actress who played Charlene Darling on “The Andy Griffith Show,” told the audience during the tribute.
But she also shared something else with the crowd, which included many onlookers bundled up in blankets and jackets to overcome the morning chill. That was a letter sent from Cindi Griffith, Andy Griffith’s widow, which Mancuso read while occupying the microphone.
“Emmett was a true gentleman and an honest man,” Cindi Griffith wrote. “Emmett was a person you could trust,” her letter continued, noting that this was a rarity for the couple.
“Emmett and Andy had a lot in common — they were friends and they were friends for life.”
Cindi Griffith’s letter also referred to Forrest’s penchant for collecting, especially items from Griffith’s professional show business career spanning seven decades.
She wrote how she once asked Andy about what could be considered an unusual obsession.
“Don’t you think it’s a little strange — someone collecting all this stuff about your life?” Cindi Griffith told her husband, as related in the letter.
“No,” was the reply from Andy. “Emmett always collected things…Emmett loved to collect.” That included items during childhood and culminated with his donation of memorabilia to the museum, for which Forrest is recognized as benefactor and founding curator.
“Please understand, Emmett made no money from sharing his collection,” Cindi Griffith continued in the letter. As a longtime supporter of the Surry Arts Council, Forrest understood that a community without the arts is a sad place, she wrote.
Andy and Cindi Griffith “both loved Emmett Forrest,” Mancuso read from the letter.
One of the similarities the two men shared, as cited in its text, was their faith.
“They only wanted to be good people, worship God and go to heaven.”
That was highlighted by other parts of Sunday’s tribute, which included hymns sung by Craig Southern, Robbie Britt and Michael Hoover.
Among others, Southern performed “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” one of Forrest’s favorites, which Southern sang at his funeral.
Britt rendered “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” which he also had performed at a tribute to Griffith during the 2012 Mayberry Days, drawing a thumbs-up then from Forrest.
Hoover’s contribution included the song “Dixie,” which audience members responded to by standing and placing hands over hearts. At times Sunday, some were seen wiping tears from their eyes.
The Grace Moravian Church Band also played several songs as the audience filtered in to the amphitheatre.
As she surveyed the crowd at the start of Sunday’s program, Terri Forrest Champney — one of three children Forrest is survived by — said her dad would be proud, especially of the fact it was held during Mayberry Days.
“He would be humbled,” Champney said. “This was his favorite time of year — making new friends and meeting with old friends.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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