Andy Griffith remembered in Mount Airy, Manteo

Artistic inspiration between the actor and his state was mutual, as was the love

ajames@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2012 

In Mount Airy, rain fell Tuesday as tourists made their way to the Snappy Lunch diner and Floyd’s barber shop.

Some said it was nature’s way of mourning the loss of Andy Griffith, the native son who made the downtown businesses famous on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“I believe you could take lessons from the show and watch how Andy raised Opie and raise your own child that way,” said Bonnie Dotson, who grew up watching the show and traveled from West Virginia to visit Mount Airy – the inspiration for Mayberry.

Across the state in Manteo, where Griffith found his calling and would later make his home, there were similar remembrances Tuesday.

“Actually, Manteo was like his Mayberry,” said Edward Greene, 87, a Manteo businessman who was Griffith’s friend since 1953, when they performed together in “The Lost Colony.” “Once he did ‘The Lost Colony’ and became successful, he always came back to Roanoke Island.”

Griffith credited “The Lost Colony’ as his acting training ground. He was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill when he first appeared in the historical drama in a minor role called First Soldier. He came back the next year and played Second Soldier, and then took the role of Sir Walter Raleigh from 1949 to 1953.

“There was a great honesty in what he did, and that’s one of the things that appealed to people,” said Charles Massey, marketing director of “The Lost Colony.” “He knew how to make people laugh without doing cheap theatrics. There was something very genuine about it.”

Though Griffith chose not to move back to Mount Airy, about a half-hour north of Winston-Salem, after high school, his fame placed his hometown on the map, said Russell Hyatt. The longtime owner of Floyd’s, Hyatt said he used to cut Griffith’s hair.

Griffith also never lost touch with high school friend Emmett Forrest, 84, who said he last spoke with the actor four or five weeks ago and that he sounded excellent, with no hint of bad health.

“Andy was an honorable man,” Forrest said, adding that music was Griffith’s first love. Though the high school band didn’t exist when Griffith was in school, the actor was a supporter of it in later years.

Forrest recalled a friend telling him to make sure to pass this along to Griffith: “If it weren’t for him giving money to the high school band, I wouldn’t have gotten to go on our band’s field trip to New Orleans.”

Griffith also was a longtime backer of “The Lost Colony.” He was there to help put out a fire that destroyed the theater in 1947, when members of the company threw costumes in the water to prevent them from burning, Massey said. Griffith’s foundation helped replace costumes destroyed in another fire a few years ago.

“And he was always very supportive of the organization,” Massey said. “Lending his name, financially, every way. He’s always been encouraging to people who were in the show. He did the opening announcement that we’ve been using several years. ‘Welcome to the beautiful Waterside Theater. This is Andy Griffith.’ ”

That announcement was to be retired Tuesday night, Massey said.

James: 919-829-4870

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