“I was meeting people who came in for Mayberry before Mayberry became Mayberry, ” Donna Hiatt says with a laugh. She is speaking of her early years as a barber, working beside “The Real Floyd,” as her late uncle Russell Hiatt was known.
Until his death on May 3, 2016, Russell Hiatt was the last living barber to have cut Andy Griffith’s hair in Mount Airy, and had been for many years, earning him the title of “The Real Floyd.”
Long before there was a Mayberry Days festival in Mount Airy and before the city began using Mayberry as a marketing tool, fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” sought out the real place that was the inspiration for Mayberry. A visit to “The Real Floyd” was one of their first stops on that journey.
Donna Hiatt, working alongside her famous uncle, saw the Mayberry pilgrims from the start, and she still keeps up with some of those early visitors. Some of them still return to town occasionally, and she cuts their hair when they do.
“My father died early,” said Hiatt. “He was a father figure to me,” she says of her uncle. It was his inspiration that led her to become a barber, and they worked together for 18 years.
Hiatt enjoyed the Mayberry tourists who came into the shop to meet “The Real Floyd” though the feeling was not always mutual. Some customers, especially early on, did not think it appropriate for a woman to work at Floyd’s Barber Shop.
“I worked the chair near the front window, and one day I saw four little old ladies with their faces pressed against the glass watching me cut a customer’s hair.”
One of the indignant women said, “How dare they put a woman in there!” It was a very Mayberry scene.
Hiatt smiled and said, “I was the first woman to work in that barber shop.” Hiatt is not just a “lady barber” as she would surely have been called on “The Andy Griffith Show,” but she is a lady barber who likes pink.
“Everything on my smock is pink,” she said, pointing to her black smock liberally piped in shocking pink. Long ago, a customer, noticing her pink-centric wardrobe nodded toward her uncle and said, “If he’s Floyd, you must be Pink Floyd.”
The name stuck.
There is a poster on the front door of her shop with an image of Howard McNear, the actor who played Floyd the Barber on “The Andy Griffith Show” silk-screened in shocking-pink on a black background above the words “Pink Floyd.” She sells tee shirts emblazoned with the image in her barber shop.
Fifteen years ago Hiatt made the difficult decision to strike out on her own. Her uncle owned the business Floyd’s City Barber Shop but he did not own the building, and Donna Hiatt was concerned about what would happen to her after her uncle was gone. “I would never have left if it hadn’t been for worrying about my job,” she said.
She bought a building on North Renfro Street, one block east of her beloved Main Street where she could still feel part of downtown. “It was an old rundown building,” she says of the building that has been lovingly renovated to house Donna’s Barber Shop. There’s a “Pink Floyd” poster on the front door, and the interior walls are covered with memorabilia and mementos.
She has made the shop family-friendly with a stash of toys and games with which children can amuse themselves while waiting for the whole family to get their hair cut. Patrons can play checkers, and there are turtles and fish to enjoy.
“There have been turtles from the beginning,” she said. “Kids tell their parents,’There’s Donna’s. I want to see the turtles’ when they drive by.”
Two other barbers work with Hiatt, Duane Joyce from Pinnacle, who has been with her since 2003, and Chris Moorefield from Sauertown Mountain, who has been with her since 2007.
Hiatt cuts men’s and women’s hair and works by appointment unless she has an opening to take a walk-in. Joyce and Moorefield cut only men’s hair and do not take appointments. The three of them average 75 customers a day, most of them ordinary Mount Airy residents, some Mayberry tourists who come in to see “Pink Floyd” and the occasional celebrity.
“I cut Thelma Lou’s hair,” said Hiatt, referring to Betty Lynn, the actress who played Barney Fife’s girlfriend Thelma Lou on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and has since retired from Hollywood to live in Mount Airy. “She’s the sweetest lady I’ve ever met,” said Hiatt. She comes in and speaks to everybody in the shop, even the young kids who don’t have any idea who she is.
When not being a barber to celebrities, tourists and townspeople alike, Donna Hiatt finds time to give back to the community that she loves so much.
Early on, Hiatt got involved with fundraising through her friendship with the late Griggs Hampton, a Mount Airy resident who Hiatt says was a natural-born fundraiser. “Griggs had a disability,” said Hiatt,”but through his disability, he did more for this town than anyone I know.”
“I learned from him about giving back and making a difference and changing people’s lives,” Hiatt said.
“We worked together on March of Dimes and Relay for Life for 33 years,” Hiatt said, until Hampton died of cancer five years ago.
“He was a real ‘hometown hero,’” Hiatt said of her friend. “We would raise $10,000,” she remembers. “Without him, it’s hard to raise a thousand. “All he had to do was walk in and put his hand out.”
“He could fill 60 Salvation Army stockings in no time. Nobody turned him down.”
“We were just like this,” Hiatt says, with her fingers crossed. She said losing him was the saddest day of her life.
“If I hadn’t gone to work downtown for Russell, I wouldn’t have met Griggs Hampton,” said Hiatt, citing another reason to be happy about her Mayberry career choices.
Hiatt’s life in the real Mayberry never veers far from the TV Mayberry, but sometimes the connections are surprising. Never more so than when she announces that she is going on the Mayberry Cruise Ship next year. “I have been asked to be Barbara Eden,” she says.
Perhaps it should come as less of a surprise since Donna Hiatt was the first woman to work in Floyd’s Barber Shop in the real Mayberry, and Barbara Eden was the first woman to work in Floyd’s Barber Shop in the TV Mayberry when she came to town seeking work as a manicurist in an early episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Donna’s Barber Shop is located at 304 N. Renfro St., Mount Airy, NC, and is open Tuesday -Friday from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. – 12 p.m. by appointment or walk-in. Call 336-789-8855 to make an appointment with Donna Hiatt.
Cruise to Mayberry 13 will be aboard Carnival Paradise from Nov. 5-10, 2018. The ship will sail from Florida to Cozumel, Mexico, and Mahogony Bay, Honduras, and guests will be able to meet Donna Hiatt, AKA “Pink Floyd,” debuting as a tribute artist to Mayberry celebrity Barbara Eden. For more information, call 336-538-4926.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.