When longtime Chattanooga country music deejay David Earl Hughes died in 2004, the funeral ceremony ended with the whistling theme song to "The Andy Griffith Show" -- Hughes' favorite TV program.
"[Hughes] was always talking about the Andy Griffith Show," said Chris McDaniel, a former Confederate Railroad band member turned Chickamauga, Ga., preacher. "Isn't that amazing, how that show impacted so many people?"
Andy Griffith is gone. The actor, who made homespun Southern wisdom his trademark as the sage sheriff Andy Taylor in "The Andy Griffith Show" and the rumpled defense lawyer in "Matlock," died Tuesday.
Yet Griffith's memory lives on for Chattanooga-area personalities who met him -- and for those who watch "The Andy Griffith Show" religiously more than four decades after the last episodes were filmed.
"It's amazing how many people just watch it over and over and over again," said Doris Ellis, programming and community services director for WDEF-TV Channel 12, which airs "The Andy Griffith Show" every weeknight at 7:30 p.m.
Off the top of her head, Ellis knew that 249 episodes were filmed during the show's eight seasons. That's not enough to fill a year's worth of weeknight programming, so there are repeats. But that doesn't matter to viewers, she said.
"People really don't seem to tire of the show," Ellis said.
Over the years, the TV station has held various Andy Griffith-related promotions, including look-alike contests. One woman even had a bird that could sing "The Andy Griffith Show" theme song, a real tune named "The Fishin' Hole."
"It was the darndest thing," Ellis said.
Griffith's Ben Matlock character is widely believed to be modeled on Bobby Lee Cook, a Summerville, Ga., attorney who's been called the dean of Georgia criminal defense lawyers.
"I'm so sorry," Cook said Tuesday morning after learning of Griffith's death. "He was a wonderful fellow. Charming, bright. He was a good actor."
The two men met a few times over the years.
"I didn't get to know him personally, not in depth," said Cook, who was coy about whether he was the inspiration for Matlock.
"That's what they say," Cook said. "If he saw me in action [in court], I don't know about it."
WDEF-FM radio personality Luther Masingill, who has logged 72 years on the air, remembers being one of the first deejays to play "What it Was, Was Football," a comedic monologue Griffith recorded in 1953 that helped launch his career. The recording, made in Raleigh, N.C., was done from the perspective of a naive country preacher who attends his first football game by accident. It became one of the biggest-selling comedy records of all time.
"I guess I got more requests for that ... back in those days than any other song," Masingill said.
Masingill met Griffith two times in Atlanta back then.
"He was just like he was in his series," he said. "Everything about him was down-to-earth. Whatever the subject was, you'd get a good, old country version of it."
Tripp Taylor, director of sales and marketing at Luken Communications, a Chattanooga-based TV network that specializes in retro TV programming, said the network doesn't have the rights to any of Griffith's programs, but Taylor understands how Southerners' imaginations cling so strongly to Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town that was the setting for "The Andy Griffith Show."
"That was the way of life not too, too long ago," he said.
Taylor heard the news of Griffith's passing Tuesday morning while he was meeting in Nashville with country music talk show hosts Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase, whose show "Crook & Chase" will be featured this fall when Luken Communications brings back The Nashville Network as a digital broadcast network.
Crook and Chase shared stories about Griffith, including that he was truly nervous before singing in public.
"He was just a genuine, real person," Taylor said.
Chattanooga-area churches have been using educational literature based on Griffith's show, including St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, where church member Bill Steverson once led a six-week study in "The Gospel According to Barney," based on Mayberry's goofy-but-lovable Deputy Barney Fife.
McDaniel said he has incorporated Mayberry themes in his own sermons.
"There were more life lessons in that show," the Chickamauga preacher said.
Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...
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