Andy Griffith’s death today brought a pause to the partisan wars and poisonous attacks that are now a staple of our public dialogue. Andy Griffith had a stellar acting career that ranged from his dark and menacing performance as Lonesome Rhodes in the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd” with actress Patricia Neal to the wise and crafty country lawyer Ben Matlock. But it was the passing of Sheriff Taylor today that stopped — for just a moment — the negative world we live in for pause and remembrances. For those of us who grew up watching Sheriff Taylor, Deputy Fife, Aunt Bee, Opie and the other wonderful residents of Mayberry, N.C., the death of Andy Griffith reminds us of another kinder, gentler time where common sense and a smile ruled the day.
“The Andy Griffith Show” was one of the most popular situation comedies of the 1960s and was No. 1 in the Nielson ratings when it went off the air in 1968. The show has lived on in reruns ever since, and today I doubt there is any who has not seen an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” The most amazing part of that success to me was not that Andy Griffith and the Mayberry cast were successful over the years, but that the country (some might say “corny”) humor and scripts were popular during the turbulent 1960s. The show was at its height of popularity during the most intense and deadly part of the Vietnam War and the social changes of the period. Yet Sheriff Taylor touched something in us then just as he does today in equally but much different turbulent times.
What was it about Sheriff Andy Taylor, Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, Opie and Mayberry that make us pause and remember? I believe it was and is two things that they stood for above all else. First was trust. Sheriff Taylor epitomized a person who you could trust — trust to be honest and trust to always do the right thing. I think the American TV audience in the 1960s and today connected to that part of Andy Griffith’s character. Sheriff Taylor was real and authentic.
Second, the people of Mayberry cared about each other. Most episodes revolved around Andy not wanting to hurt another character’s feelings. In Mayberry, Sheriff Taylor solved every problem from Aunt Bee’s wayward romances to Opie’s childhood dramas to the “town drunk” Otis Campbell with love and respect.
Sheriff Taylor and Mayberry stood for enduring and simply qualities of respect and love that we all strive for and rarely achieve. Forty years from now, I am certain that folks will not remember the reality show stars that crowd our TV screens today. Snooki will be long forgotten but Andy will live on in reruns forever. Today, we remember the smile, the fishing pole and the whistle and hope that a little part of Mayberry can be part of our lives today and tomorrow.
Coble, former mayor of Columbia, was a big fan of Griffith’s over the years.