SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - I was genuinely surprised to hear about the death of Donna Douglas on Friday. When I had the privilege of meeting her in August, 2013, I was immediately impressed at just how healthy and vibrant she was to be, at that time, 80 years old.
The occasion was an autograph signing at the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, appearing along with Betty "Thelma Lou" Lynn. I thought it would be a fun story that a lot of our viewers would enjoy, so I begged my producer to let me run up there and do the story. Both
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Andy Griffith Show
were huge hits on WBTV and CBS in the 1960's, and judging from the size of the crowd that day, the popularity of two of the stars of those shows had not waned over the years.
"I could have done Shakespeare on Broadway but nobody would remember me," Lynn told WBTV. "But this show, they remember!"
And Douglas is also remembered for her appearance in the classic Twilight Zone episode titled Eye of the Beholder. She also appeared in Mister Ed, Route 66, and starred with Elvis Presley in the movie Frankie & Johnny.
In the middle of that day on Thursday, August 1, hundreds of people packed the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, just spend a few minutes with Donna and Betty.
The turnout was so large that both Betty and Donna agreed to stay well past the set time for the event. Originally scheduled to stay until 1:30, both stars gamely stayed until after 4:00 pm to make sure no one went away unhappy.
It also took a while because they never rushed anybody. Both stars took their time just visiting with their fans.
"It's amazing how your past has been, where you come from," Douglas told me. "That will be used in your life that like a stepping stone to God's plan for your life."
"Some women come and they'll tell me about their family, they break into tears, but it brings back so many memories of their childhood," Lynn added.
"This is an emotional kind of attachment. I never dreamed that I'd be sitting here on day with people, crowds, coming. Here I am, and old woman and I'm so lucky that I have people that care so much about something that I did."
Betty actually lives in Mount Airy and comes to museum every few weeks to meet the fans. Donna Douglas was in the area while crisscrossing the country on a speaking tour.
If it sounded like these women were enjoying this event as much as the fans, that's because they really were.
They say it's gratifying to be remembered so fondly for something they enjoyed doing so much, even if it was so long ago. "You're going to make me cry, just making me think about it, it's just very touching, it really is, I think it's so unusual," Lynn added.
"Sure has been nice visiting with you," Douglas added. "Y'all be sure to come back now, you hear!"
Douglas effortlessly followed those words with her trademark high pitched whistle.
Her travels speaking in churches took Douglas across the country, and especially across the south. After her appearance in Mount Airy on that day, she was headed to Gastonia to speak.
Douglas passed away on Thursday, just three months after learning that she had pancreatic cancer, according to Raycom Media television station WAFB.
Her character on The Beverly Hillbillies was known for being beautiful, for loving animals, and for never losing her country girl perspective even after her family came into money, and at least to me, that was a true reflection of her personal life. The one element that was always present in her personal life that you didn't hear much about on the show was the very deep faith she frequently said guided every aspect of her life.
"I believed if I believed with all my heart that if I did the best I could do, God would take care me of me," Douglas told WAFB in 2009. "Then I didn't have to be afraid.