Betty Lynn: Forever Thelma Lou

Actress Betty Lynn is 87. It's hard to believe that 'Thelma Lou' was born on Aug. 29, 1926! Who woulda' thought? Even though it has been 48 years since The Andy Griffith Show actress appeared as a regular on TAGS playing the sweet, mild-mannered girlfriend of our favorite bumbling deputy Barney Fife, reruns keep 'Thelma Lou' young in our minds and in our hearts.

Lynn, who is one of the few remaining surviving TAGS cast members, is living a comfortable life these days in Mt. Airy, NC, birthplace and hometown of Andy Griffith. She has happily reunited with cast members over the years at the annual "Mayberry Days" which takes place in September each year in Mt. Airy.

The greatest joy in Betty's life was playing Thelma Lou from 1960 to 1965. I had the great pleasure of covering the 50th Anniversary of The Andy Griffith Show in 2010 at the annual "Mayberry Days" event interviewing Betty, Karen Knotts (Don's daughter), Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), George Lindsey (Goober Pyle), Elinor Donahue (Ellie Walker), Maggie Peterson (Charlene Darling) and Ron Howard (Opie Taylor).

Lynn began her career in radio later hitting the Broadway stage. She made her film debut in the 1948 film 'Sitting Pretty,' opposite Robert Young. After guest starring in several television series, she won the role of Barney Fife's girlfriend. 'Thelma Lou,' who loved Barney Fife unconditionally, apparently was never wise to the fact that her boyfriend occasionally carried on with a little diner waitress named Juanita.

Lynn, who has never married (although she told me she was engaged once), shared a few memories from those nostalgic years that included her platonic affection for her boss Andy Griffith. She was quick to point out the success of the show was due to Andy's spot-on vision, keeping the integrity of the small southern town in line with the identity of each character, including hers. One of her favorite memories is just so sweet: "Andy once said to me, 'You were Barney's girlfriend, but you should have been mine.' That meant a lot to me," she said with a grin.

"I never dreamed I'd end up here [in Mt. Airy]," admitted Betty. "Andy drew so much from his home town. There's so much about it that was special when I first got here. There was a little lady sitting next to me in the hospital here. I had to go in and wait awhile, go into a little cubicle and give them my information. But this very proper little lady turned to me, and she said, 'My name is Juanita.' And it just came out: I said, 'You little hussy!' I've been wanting to meet you for a long time!' Betty laughed, adding, "And then I thought: 'Oh, I hope she has watched the show.' [Juanita] kind of laughed, but at first I'm sure I scared her. Later I said, 'I hope you knew the reference to the show.' She said, 'Oh, yes, I've watched it.'... I was so relieved!"

After revealing her character had married on a class reunion show during the sixth season (much to Barney's disappointment), Lynn reprised her role in Return to Mayberry in 1986 where she and Barney were finally married. Lynn, who guest starred on Family Affair, Little House on the Prairie, and Matlock retired from acting in 2006, moving from California to North Carolina in 2007 after her apartment had been burglarized twice.

Does she still watch reruns of TAGS? "Yes, I love watching the old shows and still laugh out loud," Lynn noted with her hand over her heart. "Those days were some of the happiest of my life."

She continues to make appearances and sign autographs on the third Friday of each month at the Andy Griffith Museum located in the heart of Mt. Airy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Betty Lynn -- one of Mayberry's finest residents, and the sweetest woman this side of Heaven.

Miss Betty doesn't own a computer, isn't on Facebook or hasn't joined the Twitter universe. If you would like to send her a personal birthday message, please do so in the comments. We will print them out and make sure she sees every one. She will be elated to hear from you!