Russell Hiatt celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday, surrounded in his barber shop full of family, friends, and fans — all filled with warmth and joy, despite the snow falling outside and arctic blasts pouring through the door to Floyd’s Barber Shop.
“We have two of his favorite things going on today, his birthday and the snow,” Hiatt’s granddaughter, Amanda Phillips, said.
“It really is heartwarming to see how many people love and think so much of him and to see the impact he has made. He has made such an impact on my life, too. He’s such a good Christian man,” Phillips said. “They come to talk to him for the camaraderie, and he never forgets a face.”
Mayor Deborah Cochran declared Jan. 28, 2014, as “Russell Hiatt Day” and honored him as the owner of the long-time barber shop. She read the official proclamation, one that stated Hiatt is the second-oldest active barber in the country, and shared the names of celebrities whose hair he had cut, including Lou “Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno and Oprah Winfrey.
Hiatt, whose eyes were filled with tears, said he was “really surprised” by the birthday celebration. “This is just my life. I love it, and you don’t do anything unless you love it. I love people. Both of my sons are here with me, my daughter, my grandkids, and my great-grandchildren, and I love them all,” Hiatt shared, his voice trembling with emotion.
“It’s really amazing. There are people here from out of town just to be at my birthday party. Over the years, I’ve had people come in here from 40 countries,” he added.
Russell Hiatt has become known as the local version of Floyd the Barber from “The Andy Griffith Show,” and surrounding him on Tuesday were not only the people he loves, but also fans who love him, city officials and other downtown business owners. Also surrounding Hiatt were more than 20,000 pictures of visitors who have walked through the doors of his shop for more than 60 years, the photographs reflected in the barber shop mirrors.
Hiatt still goes to work every day, no matter what, and is still giving his famous haircuts.
“We can’t keep him out of here, he just loves it. He’s still coming in, insisting on coming in every day,” Hiatt’s granddaughter, Amanda Phillips, shared, who was there along with her husband Mike Phillips and children, Hiatt’s grandchildren, Keevie, Klay, and Katie Newsom, and grandson Sterling Phillips. Also joining Hiatt were other family members — his son Billy Hiatt, daughter Carol Stone, nephew Lane Hawks, niece Donna Hiatt, brother R.J. Hiatt, grandson Jake Hiatt, and granddaughter Emily Hawks.
“He has five generations in his family,” Phillips added.
Otis impersonator Kenneth Junking and Floyd impersonator Allan Newsome were on hand, dishing out slices of cake and cups of punch, served up with a slice of good-natured humor.
“I’m proud to say he was the first one to cut my son’s hair,” Junking said.
Jim Clark, “presiding Goober” of The Andy Griffith Show Re-run Watchers Club, said he was glad to be there for the “great occasion.” “It’s great I get to share this day with him,” Clark said, while snapping pictures to add to the his website.
The barber shop was packed-full, standing-room only, with everyone snapping pictures and passing around slices of the barber shop-themed cake, prepared by Miss Angel’s Heavenly Bakery.
Several people from outside the state traveled to Mount Airy just to join in Hiatt’s celebration, including Mike and Lorane Brown, who traveled here from Atlanta, “just for this party,” according to Mike. “We come here twice per year, and have been coming since 1994, so for 20 years. In fact, this shirt is 20 years old,” he shared, proudly displaying his Floyd’s Barber Shop sweatshirt. “And now it’s got his cake on it,” he added with a laugh, as a dollop of icing fell down onto the white shirt.
Others traveled from places such as Alabama, and John Robert Young and Emmiline Young traveled from Greenwood, S.C., for the surprise party.
Folks kept pouring through the door, even as the snow fell harder, a testament to the life and legacy of Russell Hiatt.
Various stories were told of haircuts through the years, and son Billy Hiatt said he was proud that his dad was the first to cut his hair, and also the first to cut the hair of his sons, grandson and great-grandsons.
Hiatt entertained with some of his most-loved stories, and everyone laughed, just like they did the first time they heard them.
The birthday party was a celebration of Russell Hiatt’s 90th birthday, but for those packed in that barber shop while snow poured down outside, it was a reminder of the warmth and camaraderie that always fills the old-fashioned barber shop, and always will.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org and @MountAiryJess on Twitter.