Andy Griffith, the man who played Sheriff Andy Taylor on the 1960s sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show,” died Tuesday at his home in North Carolina at the age of 86.
In the years since the show went off the air, Griffith, and his most famous role as the humble, honest and hard-working local law enforcer of Mayberry, has become a symbol of Americana; an idealized look at the way life once was and where problems were solved with simple homespun wisdom.
“I loved it because the whole town of Mayberry was just small town America,” said Greg Smith, a local Griffith fan. “It reminded me of my hometown of Oneonta, Ala.”
Smith, the executive vice president and chief credit officer at Southern States Bank in Anniston, talked lovingly Tuesday about the role Griffith played in his life, peppering in trivia questions and his favorite lines from the show while describing his hero.
“Andy was the kind of dad everyone wished they had,” Smith said, explaining Griffith’s appeal. “The way Andy raised Opie was the way I was raised. I’m sure there were people in my hometown like Andy, but he didn’t specifically remind me of anyone except maybe my dad.”
Smith’s passion for the show might be matched locally only by that of former Calhoun County Circuit Judge Joel Laird, who has a replica of Andy’s car from the show and whole house full of Griffith memorabilia.
“There’s that song, ‘I wish life was like The Andy Griffith Show’” said Laird, referencing a single by the Bellamy Brothers. “Life really would be better if it was more like ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ My oldest son told me he wished he could have grown up in a smaller town with a slower pace, a simpler kind of life.”
To Laird, the character of Andy Taylor represented “America’s sheriff,” the perfect professional who was also the person in town everyone could rely on when they needed him the most.
“Andy Taylor was everyone’s friend. No one had a better friend then Sheriff Taylor,” Laird said, “If all law enforcement officers approached their job like Andy Taylor did there might not be as many problems in the world.”
It’s not a statement most in the business would disagree with.
“He was an icon to all of us,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson. “If we could all solve our problems the way Andy did, we’d be a lot better off.”
Not that it’s always possible, Amerson said. For one thing, Sheriff Taylor never had to deal with violent gangs or drug addiction. Jacksonville Police Chief Tommy Thompson said towns like Mayberry probably existed in the 1950’s, but those days are long gone.
“We’ll all miss Sheriff Andy Taylor out of Mayberry,” said Jacksonville Police Chief Tommy Thompson. “I don’t think there will ever be another Mayberry. There will never be another Andy Griffith.”
But Amerson said there’s still a lot to be gained from the way Andy Taylor handled his role as sheriff. It’s an ideal he said he tries to instill everyday on the job.
“The fundamental feature of law enforcement is to deal people and their problems,” Amerson said. “His constituents, he knew them as people. It’s essential to remember as sheriff those people who come to you with problems are human beings, and you need to relate to them in that way.”
But perhaps the most enduring episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” had nothing to with Andy’s professional life. Instead, in 1963’s “Opie the Birdman,” Andy teaches his son Opie a lesson about the consequences of his actions by making him raise a group of baby birds after he kills their mother with his slingshot. The episode ends with Opie telling his father the cage in which he raised the birds seemed empty.
“But don’t the trees seem nice and full?” Andy said.
“The parallel was Opie’s mother died young,” said Smith, who called “Opie the Birdman” his favorite episode. “When Opie had to raise the birds it was very similar to how Andy had to raise Opie.”
Laird’s interpretation of the famous lines Sheriff Taylor speaks to his son are more universal and encapsulates what he said was the show’s ultimate message.
“It was a different way of looking at things and that’s what he did, make you look at the world differently, with a more personal look,” he said. “We’ve gotten away from that, we don’t look at life on a personal level, to take the time to see the good in another person.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.