Knoxville layman uses Mayberry character to share the gospel
BRENTWOOD — The resemblance is uncanny.
Not only does Knoxville layman Sammy Sawyer act like Barney Fife, he actually resembles the late Don Knotts, who made Barney Fife into one of the most beloved television characters in history.
The Mayberry character is once again brought to life by Sawyer, a member of Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville.
Sawyer has been impersonating Barney Fife for as long as he can remember. But it was not until the early 1990s, when he and a couple of friends wrote a play entitled “A Mayberry Christmas,” that Sawyer impersonated the lovable Barney Fife for the first time in public.
His ability to bring Barney Fife to life through his voice impersonations and mannerisms, soon made Sawyer a much sought after “celebrity.”
Through primarily word of mouth “advertising,” Sawyer began speaking at churches, corporate events and numerous other events.
For two years (2006-07) Sawyer and several of his family members did a show in Pigeon Forge entitled “Mayberry in the Smokies.”
In 2007 Sawyer left his job and went full-time with his Barney Fife character.
Since then he has made more than 366 appearances as “Barney Fife” all over the country and has made about 75 commercials in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, using the character.
He was in Middle Tennessee two weeks ago, speaking at an event at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville and later at the Tennessee Baptist Convention building in Brentwood.
Born two years after “The Andy Griffith Show” first aired in 1960, Sawyer grew up watching re-runs.
He noted that “The Andy Griffith Show” is timeless. “It was well made and it is still relevant today,” he observed, adding that the show portrays lessons that are still needed today.
“The show taught life lessons of how to treat people,” he said, noting the relationship between Andy and Barney. They exemplified true friendship, he said.
Sawyer also had the fortunate experience living with who he considers a real life Barney Fife — his dad, James Sawyer, who at one time served as chief of police for the city of Norris in East Tennessee.
“My daddy was the funniest person I have ever met,” Sawyer recalled. “He wasn’t a comedian by any means but he could say and do things that absolutely would put you in stitches.
“In fact, I will never be able to do Barney nearly as good as my daddy could if he had wanted to,” Sawyer said.
While he estimates that his performances are about half corporate and half ministry-related, he thoroughly enjoys going into church settings. He estimated that he has been in more than 250 churches of all denominations.
“My passion is the ministry,” Sawyer said. “I love sharing the gospel.”
When he speaks at churches and in other Christian settings, Sawyer always shares Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart (laughter) does good like a medicine.”
Sawyer noted that people today deal with depression and a myriad of problems in their lives.
He enjoys making people laugh so they can get away from their problems, even if it is for just a short time.
When he speaks at churches, he likes to do 20 minutes of comedy as Barney Fife and lead into a message by Sammy Sawyer.
Sawyer said he never dreamed he could turn his imitation of Barney Fife into a ministry. “It is neat how the Lord has opened doors for me to do this,” he said.
Sawyer noted that even in his corporate presentations, he is able to incorporate the message of Christ in his presentations.
“The bottom line is that you need the Lord,” Sawyer said, adding that his ministry “is what the Lord has called me to do.”
Sawyer is willing to speak at churches regardless of size. For more information about his ministry, visit his website at www.bfife4life.com.