In the sixties--before everyone had computers, radios and cell phones-- York and Mayberry, N.C., were practically one in the same, right down to the bootleggers and moonshiners, according to Bill Mobley, a retired York police chief.
Downtown on Saturdays was bustling. Kids spent their weekends watching cartoons and catching matinees at the movie theater. Mom-and-pop stores thrived.
For a teenage Mobley, it was like living in one of his favorite TV shows.
“The crime lifestyle and everything reminded me a lot of our area,” said Mobley, who as a teen growing up in York watched “The Andy Griffith Show” on CBS with his family. “People got along good and everything like that. It was just a different time and different era; everybody knew one another. If something happened to somebody, people came in and everybody stuck together.”
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Like Mayberry, where Sheriff Andy Taylor enforced the law alongside a comical deputy, Barney Fife, York “is a small town,” Mobley said.
But “times” and “laws” and York and Clover and Rock Hill have changed, Mobley said.
What hasn’t changed is Mobley’s fondness for the show. Still today, he watches it with his grandkids. They’re at the point where they can name almost all the characters.
“It’s kind of a shame that a lot of the younger kids today weren’t exposed to a lot of that,” Mobley said.
Griffith, the legendary actor and artist whose portrayal as a sheriff in the tiny fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., earned him the title ‘America’s Favorite Sheriff,’ died in his North Carolina home Tuesday morning.
He was 86.
He began his career as a monologist before moving into television. He won widespread notoriety in 1960 when he portrayed widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The series lasted until 1968. In 1986, years after starting his own production company, he stepped into another lead television role as Ben Matlock, a Southern lawyer lauded for always winning cases, in “Matlock.” The show ran until 1995.
When the show hit airwaves, the most notorious crimes in York was illegally making liquor, Mobley said. Now, kids are exposed to liquor, drugs and sex.
“Back then, you weren’t exposed to all that stuff,” Mobley said.
Ask former 16th Circuit Solicitor Tommy Pope about his father--the late Elbert Pope, a former York County sheriff who grew up in the ‘60s--and he’d describe the man as a “Shrek with a little pistol on his side.”
Though “a giant of a man,” Pope’s father used “the Andy Griffith approach” to deal with criminals.
“My father came from a different generation in law enforcement, where there was a lot more flexibility with how you dealt with problems,” Pope said. “It was just a simpler time.”
Pope recalled riding to a man’s house with his father one Saturday morning. As they pulled up to the house, Pope’s father honked the horn. The man walked out, got in the backseat of the patrol vehicle and, minutes later, found himself behind bars.
Years later, Pope discovered that his father “caught” the man on Wednesday but let him stay free until he got his paycheck that Friday so he’d make sure his wife and kids were OK.
“Lord, if you did that nowadays, the way things are,” the culprit would have escaped or come out the house with a shotgun, Pope said.
In many ways, Pope’s father epitomized Sheriff Andy Taylor, using “discretion” and “common sense” to deal with, more times than not, drunks.
Tommy Pope had his own share of “Andy Griffith” experiences. Folks in college gave him a nickname: “Opie.”
“When you’re young, you kind of felt like they were taking a jab at you,” Pope said. But now, he can think of worse role models.
“Opie said ‘yes sir, yes ma’am,’ and used manners and he was honest,” Pope said.
While working with the State Law Enforcement Division, Pope said one of his peers was “Barney Fife,” a deputy who carried three pairs of handcuffs instead of two and arrested his first suspect outside of county jurisdiction.
For Chester County Sheriff Richard Smith, Griffith set the best kind of example—one as a father figure.
The father of four daughters, Smith knows firsthand how the life of law enforcement “pulls you away from your family a lot.”
Griffith — or Andy Taylor— still makes quite an impression on Smith.
“Being a good father is what sticks out to me(him) taking time to take care of his child,” Smith said.
Sheriff Taylor was “more of a father than a law enforcement figure,” Smith said.
Griffith made balancing a family and a job as sheriff look easy.
“You try to be like that but it normally doesn’t work out,” Smith said.
Then again, TV makes a lot of things look easy, including policing a county. “We’re a lot bigger than Mayberry,” Smith said chuckling.
Still, there’s no need to ask if Smith was a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“The question is who didn’t watch Andy Griffith?” Smith said.