This week is almost sacred for those who love “The Andy Griffith Show,” with many of the folks connected with the show making their way to Mount Airy for the annual Mayberry Days Celebration.
For one of the most recognizable stars of the show, however, making the trip is little more than a drive down the street.
That’s because Betty Lynn, known to fans the world over as Barney’s long-suffering girlfriend, Thelma Lou, decided to make Mount Airy her home more than a decade ago.
At the time, she lived in California and was one of the many actors from the show who attended Mayberry Days periodically, offering fans a chance to interact with the very people they saw in the show.
In 2006, after attending Mayberry Days again, she returned to Los Angeles to find her home had been burglarized — and not for the first time.
That’s when Tanya Jones, of the Surry Arts Council, stepped in, helping Betty find a new home in Mount Airy. She’s lived here ever since, settling into a local retirement village.
“No regrets,” she said during an earlier interview, about her decision to move. “I’m just as happy as a lark.”
Of course, moving to Andy Griffith’s hometown, the place upon which he based his fictional Mayberry, has helped revitalize her celebrity status. In addition to her regular appearance at Mayberry Days, she signs autographs at the Andy Griffith Museum on the third Friday of every month.
Fans know this, flocking to the facility when she’s there.
“You see how it is,” Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, said during one of those signing sessions earlier this year. She was referring to visitors filing off the second tour bus to stop at the Andy Griffith Museum that morning. “It’s like this every time she’s here,” Tanya said, pointing to a line of people that stretched from the museum’s entrance, down a sidewalk, almost reaching the road.
It was still more than an hour before Betty was scheduled to be there.
For Betty Lynn, the admiration goes two ways.
“I feel happy when I’m with them,” the longtime actress said of her time with the fans during an interview with The Mount Airy News in September 2016. “It gives me a tremendous lift. The people are so good — they love the show so much,” the 90-year-old actress said in that interview, when talking of The Andy Griffith Show. “They give you a big lift, actually — even if I’m not feeling too well.”
More than simply giving time to the fans, Betty says her time there is good for her, too.
“I meet so many people,” she said, which gives her an opportunity to talk with folks from all over the nation. She said during a Friday autograph session she might see visitors from California, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas and other states.
“People drive from all over to get here.”
And while the Surry Arts Council has photos on hand for autographs, Betty says she never quite knows what someone will bring in for her signature.
“Everything they bring, I try to sign it,” she said.
This has included unusual items such as a dashboards from vehicles, replicas of Mayberry squad cars, cookbooks and even the shirts on fans’ backs — the latter requiring a degree of skill.
“I try to sign them without getting ink on their tummy,” she said.
“A lot of these people will bring me things,” Betty said, which also sometimes border on the unusual, such as a yellow duck in recognition of the duck pond referenced on the show. She additionally has received Christmas ornaments, cards and other items.
But usually, the most cherished of the gifts is the love and admiration displayed by fans — which she considers priceless.
“It’s really sweet,” said Betty, who indicated that such attention is especially gratifying at this stage of her life. “I’m grateful, I really am.”
This year, she’ll be riding in the annual parade on Saturday morning, as well as signing autographs. In addition, one of her first staring roles, the 1948 movie June Bride — where she shared screen time with Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery — will be screened at the Historic Earle Theatre on Main Street. The movie will begin at 7 p.m. today. Tickets are $7 at the box office.