Editor’s Note: Mount Airy News Lifestyle Editor Eleanor Powell attended Mount Airy High School with Andy Griffith for a short time, before Griffith graduated. She shares a few of her memories regarding Griffith and thoughts on his passing.
The year was 1944. The place was Mount Airy High School. The subject was Andy Griffith. He was a popular kid on the block with a musical background.
He had a teenage girlfriend and all the younger students loved to watch as he turned on the school water fountain for her to get a drink of water. As an eighth-grade freshman, I was fascinated with their courtship.
Andy graduated that year after appearing in several operettas on the stage of Rockford Street School which eventually became the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
Some of his classmates from prominent families thought they were a bit better than he and completely ignored the Surry County native until the actor made it to the Big Apple and Hollywood. It was after making his first movie, “Faces in the Crowd,” and starring in “No Time for Sergeants,” some of the local snobs traveled to New York for the grand opening of “No Time For Sergeants.” It was payback time for Andy when the Granite City crowd claimed fame to the actor, requesting a favor to go backstage for autographs. Andy denied their requests. He would not see them nor autograph their programs.
I just know he must have had a good feeling after they had treated him with disrespect in earlier days at school.
Andy saved his money while working at Mount Airy High School and soon had enough to order a trombone from Speigel’s Catalogue. It cost $37. He couldn’t play it but managed to take lessons from the Rev. E.T. Mickey, pastor at Grace Moravian Church. He rode his bicycle from Haymore Street up to the other end of town on North Main Street for lessons until Mickey started directing the choir at Central Methodist Church in downtown, which shortened the distance. Some of the Moravian teens also played instruments and often rode on the back of a truck playing music and advertising for auctions and other events.
When Mickey moved to Winston-Salem, Andy learned that the minister needed a lawn mower. As a good deed, the Mount Airy native dressed incognito and delivered a new lawn mower to the Winston-Salem address. Mickey told the delivery guy that he had not ordered a lawn mower and didn’t know anything about one. It was then that Andy removed his hat and glasses and identified himself. They had a good laugh.
During his years at Carolina, Andy became famous for his recording of “What it Was, Was football” and from then on life had its ups and downs. He starred in “The Lost Colony” and taught school in Goldsboro before starring in “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock.”
After moving to the Hollywood area, Andy moved his parents, Carl and Geneva Griffith, from their home here in Mount Airy to be near him on the East Coast.
I remember sitting at my desk here in the office around the late 1960’s when the central telephone rang and over the intercom the receptionist announced, “Eleanor Greenwood, you have a call coming in from California. It’s Andy Griffith.” Waiting with anticipation and all of the reporters listening, Andy, a former high school friend said, “Eleanor, I need your assistance. My father has passed away and I would like you to place his obituary in The Mount Airy News.” I expressed condolences and we chatted a few minutes before he said good-bye.
Some years later, accompanied by three other friends from Piedmont Airlines, we made a trip to Hollywood and took a tour of the stars. Andy’s home was marked on the trip and on a dare, I went to the front door just to say hello, but to my dismay a letter in the mailbox had another name, plus a dog scared me off the property.
Andy Griffith put Mount Airy on the map with his “Mayberry” shows and for that we should all be thankful. He made two trips back to Mount Airy in recent years, one when the Route 52 by-pass was named the Andy Griffith Parkway and another time when his longtime friend, Emmett Forrest, lost his wife, Barbara, from a long illness. He and Cindi came to Mount Airy for the funeral at Grace Moravian Church in 2004.
Departing from Mount Airy, the Griffiths passed by the Andy Griffith Playhouse and paused to look at the Andy Griffith statue that is erected near the front entrance. With a telephone call to Emmett, Andy jokingly let him know that a bird had laid droppings on his head. Being the friends that they were, Emmett got a bucket of water and washed the bird droppings from Andy’s statue.
A friend has come and gone and we all have fond memories that we like to share. Some we keep to ourselves. Emmett said in a few words, “He left a big footprint.”
Do you have a memory of Andy Griffith, or his television and film work? A recollection from visting his hometown, Mount Airy? Did you know Andy Griffith, either during his time growing up in Mount Airy, or later in his career? If so, please share your thoughts and memories in the comment section.