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Heat actress returns to Covington

Maureen Dowdell, center, who played Bubba’s girlfriend on “In the Heat of the Night,” presented Tourism Director Jenny McDonald with a photo of the cast and crew. Grady Spradley, Carroll O’Conner’s double, was also on hand. This wooden likeness of Bubba still gets lots of attention at the Visitor’s Center. (Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum)

Maureen Dowdell, center, who played Bubba’s girlfriend on “In the Heat of the Night,” presented Tourism Director Jenny McDonald with a photo of the cast and crew. Grady Spradley, Carroll O’Conner’s double, was also on hand. This wooden likeness of Bubba still gets lots of attention at the Visitor’s Center. (Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum)

COVINGTON - Bubba’s girlfriend came back to Covington Thursday.

Maureen Dowdell, who played Tracey Boggs, girlfriend to Alan Autry’s Bubba, on “In the Heat of the Night,” was in town to visit with friends and present a photo of the cast and crew taken in Covington in 1994 to the Chamber of Commerce’s tourism department. The photo belongs to Dowdell’s friend Irene Smith.

Dowdell, a writer, actress, singer and producer living in New York, said she plans to donate her own memorabilia, including a jacket, photos and signs from her “Heat” days.

Tourism Director Jenny McDonald hopes to display the memorabilia in a “Heat” museum she is planning. She’s also begun developing a tour focused on “Heat” filming locations and is soliciting behind-the-scenes stories from people like Grady Spradley of Oxford, who was Carroll O’Conner’s double.

McDonald said she’d love to restart the “Heat” cast reunions that used to take place each year and even have a mock wedding for Tracey Boggs and Bubba. Fans still speculate as to whether the two would have ever married had the show continued, she said.

McDonald said moms of “The Vampire Diaries” fans often head to the “Heat” area in the Visitor’s Center. The show’s fans are active on social media, she said, and she’s hoping to draw them to Covington.

Dowdell planned to share her memories from “Heat” Thursday before heading off to Atlanta for a few days. She will return to Covington Sunday to sing “Ave Maria” at the 11 a.m. service at Covington First United Methodist Church, located at 1113 Conyers Street SW.

“It’s nice to come back again and rekindle the relationships and see how the city has grown but also maintained its character,” Dowdell said.

The popular series was filmed in Covington and Conyers from 1988-1995 and still has a wide fan base today.

“It’s awesome to find out that it’s had this enduring love and fan base and it’s still airing because of that,” Dowdell said.

Dowdell credits O’Conner, known on the set as “Papa,” for creating a show that has enduring appeal. O’Conner was an executive producer and in charge of the writing department.

“He lived here and he absorbed the qualities of the South … I think he really captured something of the Southern spirit,” she said, adding that the family-oriented show also carried a sense of justice in its message that appealed to viewers.

Dowdell said the cast and crew wanted to enhance, not disrupt, the community.

McDonald herself was welcomed on set when her father, a policeman, worked security. She recalled sitting in a director’s chair and watching filming.

“I think people are clamoring for that simple way of life and that is Covington,” she said.