Reunion with Timmy from ‘Lassie’ goes well for Lexington woman

Mary Reavis (left) gets a few minutes alone during the Western Film Fair in Winston-Salem with actor Jon Provost, who played the role of Timmy on the popular 1060s TV series "Lassie." Reavis missed a chance to get his autographed picture in 1961 when Provost visited a hospital where Reavis was in treatment. A collie from the Collie Rescue of the Carolinas, Mazie Grace, foreground, stood in for Lassie. This time, Reavis got a signed photograph and autographed copy of Provost's autobiography. (David Rolfe/Journal)

Mary Reavis (left) gets a few minutes alone during the Western Film Fair in Winston-Salem with actor Jon Provost, who played the role of Timmy on the popular 1060s TV series "Lassie." Reavis missed a chance to get his autographed picture in 1961 when Provost visited a hospital where Reavis was in treatment. A collie from the Collie Rescue of the Carolinas, Mazie Grace, foreground, stood in for Lassie. This time, Reavis got a signed photograph and autographed copy of Provost's autobiography. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As a teenager in 1961, Mary Reavis met the actor who played Timmy on the popular TV series “Lassie” but didn’t get an autographed picture because he had run out of them, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

On Thursday, she finally got it.

Reavis, 68, met Jon Provost, who played Timmy, for a second time at the Western Film Fair, an annual gathering in Winston-Salem held at The Hawthorne Inn & Conference Center where stars of classic TV shows and movies mingle with their fans.

Reavis — who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair — was a patient at a children’s hospital in Gastonia in March 1961 when Provost and Lassie came to visit the children.

“Every year, Lassie and I would travel the country,” Provost said. He said he worked on the TV show nine months, went on tour promoting the show for one month, and got two months of vacation. And whenever there was a children’s hospital in the area they were visiting, Provost and Lassie would drop by to cheer up the patients.

“Before there were therapy dogs, they would let Timmy and Lassie in to the hospitals,” Provost said.

“I sure do remember it,” Reavis said, recalling when she saw him “come in that door with that red jacket on” in Gastonia and remembering how cute he was.

Provost, who was 10 or 11 then, distributed pictures to the children but ran out before he reached Reavis and her friend, a polio patient named Brenda. However, Reavis does recall chatting with the young TV star.

It was partway through Provost’s seven-year tenure on “Lassie,” from 1957 to 1964. But at age 14, Provost said, “I grew tired of being Timmy anymore” and decided not to renew his contract. The show went in a different direction, with Lassie teaming up with the U.S. Forest Service. The show ran for 19 years.

Reavis, whose family is from Yadkin County, was a fan of the show, with a collie of her own named Lady. Reavis now lives in Alston Brook nursing home in Lexington. Her cousin, Kathy Scarlette, is the activity director at the facility. She said that Reavis is “the life of the party at the nursing home, very active and very loved. She’s been through a lot in her life, but she’s the happiest-go-luckiest lady.”

Thursday’s reunion came after a family friend, Frank Leonard, heard Reavis’ story of the first meeting with Provost and how she never got a picture. He decided to write Provost to see if he could get an autographed picture as a surprise gift for Reavis.

Provost’s wife, Laurie Jacobson, had a different suggestion, realizing that they would be in Winston-Salem at the Film Fair.

“Gastonia was the only one (of the hospital visits) we have photos of, just by chance,” Jacobson said. “We found out Mary lived so close (to Winston-Salem) and let her know we’d be in the area.”

None of the photos from that 1961 meeting clearly shows Reavis, but she believes she can be seen in the background in one of them.

The picture that Reavis received Thursday — a color photo of Provost next to Lassie — was personalized by Provost, which makes it nicer than the one she would have gotten 53 years ago.

“Those were pre-signed,” Jacobson pointed out, all made from one preprinted autographed picture. “This will be the real deal.”

Asked to compare her two meetings with Provost, Reavis smiled and said, “Both of them’s pretty good.”

Also at Thursday’s reunion — filling in for Lassie — was Mazie Grace, a collie representing Collie Rescue of the Carolinas, a local rescue group.

“The show really popularized the breed,” Provost said. “Collies, with their temperament and loyalty, are really great dogs.”

While working on “Lassie,” Provost sometimes filmed three different scripts at a time, learning only his scenes, and said he often didn’t know the storyline until his family sat down with their TV trays on Sunday nights and watched the latest episode.

One thing he does distinctly recall is that despite all the jokes about Lassie rescuing Timmy from a well, Timmy never once fell down a well on the show.

“He did everything else — he fell off cliffs, in rivers, got trapped down a mineshaft, but never down a well,” Provost said. “I have no idea where that came from.”

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