Cu­ri­ousNC: Ac­tress left $100K to Siler City po­lice

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY JOSH SHAFFER jshaf­[email protected]­sob­server.com

In her flow­ered dress and apron, Aunt Bee de­lighted the May­berry towns­folk with her fried chicken and pecan pies, float­ing cheer­fully through a world of church pic­nics and county fairs.

And in real life, the ac­tress who played her on “The Andy Griffith Show” chose the same small­town aus­ter­ity in old age, fleeing Hol­ly­wood for Siler City, pop­u­la­tion roughly 4,000 at the time, where she lived alone with 14 cats.

Frances “Aunt Bee” Bavier owns a mixed legacy as Chatham County’s fa­mous re­tiree. By some ac­counts, she an­swered all her fan mail and avidly pro­moted Easterseals and other char­i­ties. By oth­ers, she could be a bit of a crab: reclu­sive and fussy.

So Re­bekah Radisch of Durham asked Cu­ri­ousNC to con­firm what she’d read in a Face­book group ti­tled “You Know You Grew Up in Forsyth County When ...” that upon her death in 1989 at age 86, Bavier left money to sup­port the po­lice depart­ment in Siler City, her adopted home­town.

“I know Bavier willed a good deal of her es­tate to UNC-TV,” wrote Radisch, “but I’d heard she wasn’t par­tic­u­larly pleas­ant or en­trenched in Siler City so­ci­ety, so such a mu­nif­i­cent ges­ture seemed sur­pris­ing.”

The an­swer, hap­pily, is yes, she did.

When Aunt Bee died, she started a $100,000 trust fund for Siler City’s finest. The prin­ci­pal is kept at that amount, said Fi­nance Direc­tor Roy Lynch, and the in­ter­est is di­vided be­tween staff of roughly 20 ev­ery year around Dec. 15 — a Christ­mas bonus from May­berry.

Bavier’s largesse is even more im­pres­sive, con­sid­er­ing how she lived her fi­nal years.

Ac­cord­ing to her obit­u­ary from the As­so­ci­ated Press, which ap­peared thou­sands of miles away in the Los An­ge­les Times, she al­most never left her house. The Stude­baker in her garage had four flat tires. The obit­u­ary also said her cats used a down­stairs shower stall as a lit­ter box, but Vickie Rus­sell, who lives with her hus­band in Bavier’s for­mer house, says that’s just not true. The Rus­sells bought the house six months af­ter Bavier died and Vickie Rus­sell said there was never any sign that the shower was used as a lit­ter box – or that the cats were any­thing but well cared for. The hard­wood floors in the house, she adds, were not stained in the least.

Shortly af­ter tak­ing up res­i­dence in Chatham County in 1972, Bavier did char­ity work for both Christ­mas and Easterseals, wrote Chip Womick of the (Ashe­boro) Couri­erTri­bune in the early 1980s. But she soon dropped out of sight, de­clin­ing in­ter­views, keep­ing fan mail in a pair of trunks.

“She wasn’t the woman you saw on TV,” said Floyd Bow­ers, who worked at an Exxon sta­tion near Bavier’s grave and spoke to The N&O about her in 2004. “She liked her pri­vacy, and she was hard to please. My wife worked at the hospi­tal, and she was what the nurses call a hard pa­tient.”

In 1990, Gla­dys Farmer, a next-door neigh­bor, filed suit ar­gu­ing that the ac­tress had promised she would leave her $25,000 in cash, all of her house­hold fur­nish­ings and her car, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported at the time.

The will spec­i­fied parts of her $ 700,000-plus es­tate would go, in ad­di­tion to Siler City po­lice, to the Ac­tors Fund of Amer­ica and sev­eral res­i­dents of Con­necti­cut and New York, her home state. The rest of it went to UNC pub­lic tele­vi­sion, which auc­tioned off her Stude­baker to help pay for the en­dow­ment.

The be­quest to the po­lice was be­cause they helped keep the fans at bay, ac­cord­ing to The Greens­boro News & Record. Rus­sell knows, at a least a lit­tle bit, how hard it prob­a­bly was for Bavier to have some pri­vacy.

Even af­ter all th­ese years, peo­ple con­tinue to stop at the house to see where Aunt Bee lived. They are all very nice, Rus­sell says, but they come at all hours.

And Bavier was a part of the com­mu­nity. She was known to ride in hol­i­day pa­rades, wav­ing to the city. When lo­cal kids went off to col­lege, she wrote their moth­ers, wish­ing them well. Any­time a Girl Scout had cook­ies to sell, she bought the first box.

How­ever much she re­treated from so­ci­ety, and how­ever far her char­ac­ter fell from the Aunt Bee that au­di­ences loved, Bavier chose char­ity as a fi­nal ges­ture.

And two decades later, the po­lice depart­ment in Siler City ap­pre­ci­ates it as much as Andy Tay­lor loved her fresh corn­bread.

HO CBS

Andy Griffith, Ron Howard and Frances “Aunt Bee” Bavier starred in “The Andy Griffith Show” in the 1960s. Bavier re­tired to Siler City and lived there un­til her death in 1989.

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