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October 21, 2021

I’m sad to report that on Saturday, actress Betty Lynn died at 95. She passed away peacefully in her sleep. Beloved as Barney Fife’s girlfriend Thelma Lou on “The Andy Griffith Show,” her death leaves Ron Howard as the last surviving major cast member of that classic show.

While she was most famous as Thelma Lou, she had a long acting career, stretching from movie roles as a teenager alongside such stars as Bette Davis and Maureen O’Hara to many TV roles (do you remember her as Andy Griffith’s secretary in the first season of “Matlock”?)

TV writer/blogger Mark Evanier was very close to Betty, having grown up next door to her. He wrote, “You never met a sweeter, kinder human being than Betty Lynn.” She was like an aunt to him, so his blog has many posts about her life and his memories of her. This is a great example from his childhood of just how nice and caring she was:

Here’s his link to what he thinks is the best obituary, put out by the Andy Griffith Museum in his hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina:

She loved Mayberry fans and was known for attending fan fests and conventions. Fans would line up around the block for a photo and autograph, and she often remembered their names and asked about their family members by name, even if she’d only met them once, years before. Her love of Mayberry and what it stood for led her to retire to the closest thing to the TV town, Mt. Airy, where she became a beloved local celebrity and appeared regularly at the Andy Griffith Museum to greet fans and pose for photos.

I know you depend on me to tell you things that most obituaries won’t mention. So here's one from Mark Evanier: “She was deeply religious and apart from acting, the only profession she had ever contemplated was to become a nun.”

Also, Don Knotts left the show after five seasons, and so did she, since she believed Thelma Lou and Barney belonged together. But Knotts returned for a later episode about a reunion dance where Barney is distraught when Thelma Lou arrives with her new husband. Betty was so upset at the writers when she saw the script that she said the only way she could get through it was by telling herself that Thelma Lou was only pretending that a platonic male friend was her husband to save face. Personally, I tell myself that, too, when I watch it.

Fortunately, that misstep was rectified in the 1986 made-for-TV movie “Return to Mayberry,” where Barney and Thelma Lou finally got married. As God intended!

Rest in peace to a fine actress and a wonderful lady who will continue winning new generations of fans far into the future, especially with so many of us looking at the sorry state of the modern world and wishing we could “return to Mayberry.”

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  • JanC

    10/22/2021 12:11 PM

    Beautiful tribute to Betty Lynn AND Thelma Lou.

    No one has made me laugh more than Don Knotts/Barney Fife and he may be the only actor whose death made me cry. I always believed Barney and Thelma Lou should be married in real life. And Andy should remain single and do a better job raising Opie. ;-) (just kidding) Truly may have been the best show ever. I loved them all.

    That Andy had Don Knotts and Betty Lynn back for his show, "Matlock" demonstrates his loyalty to his friends. (Helen Crump appeared in "Matlock", too.) That Betty Lynn left Mayberry when Don did, as a moral lesson and example, demonstrates the convictions of that generation. I still love that show more than ever as I age and we move further away from its message.

    Pretty sure God would intend that we all return to Mayberry. Thank you for writing this.

    P.S. If Thelma Lou said the man returning with her was a platonic friend - probably to make Barney jealous - I am pretty sure that is 100% accurate. :-)

  • Paul Edward Eich

    10/21/2021 10:56 AM

    I think I fell in love with Thelma Lou some 50 60 or maybe even 70 years ago when I first seen her in Mayberry now I see she is only about 5 years older than me. But in all honesty I think she is the most beautiful actress that has ever crossed a stage! I am very sure she is in Heaven entertaining the Saints and Angels, the good people and the children in Heaven and I thank God for the time He allowed her to entertain us here on earth. May God bless Betty Lynn, and keep her safe in Heaven along with all the other actors and actress that played a part in the Andy Griffith show and OTIS, dear Otis you too are one of my favorite actors!