A simple, quiet kind of hero

Today, Mount Airy will say good-bye to one of its icons, a goodwill ambassador for the city who touched countless lives over the years.

Russell Hiatt, who ran a small, simple barbershop on Main Street for nearly seven decades, will be laid to rest, three days after his passing at age 92. Prior to his 2 p.m. funeral service, starting at around 1 p.m., his funeral procession will make its way down Main Street, so that local residents and business owners, as well as city visitors, can have an opportunity to pay their public respects to him and what he stood for.

Hiatt became famous over the past 26 years as the fame of Mount Airy and its connection to “The Andy Griffith Show” grew, mostly with the advent of the annual Mayberry Days festival that began in 1990. Most know the story — Andy Griffith based the town of Mayberry largely on his recollections of growing up in Mount Airy, even naming some of the fictional businesses after real ones here in Mount Airy.

Of course, Hiatt’s shop wasn’t called Floyd’s, and there never was a real-life Floyd, but he certainly came close, with the single-seat shop on Main Street where he gave probably tens of thousands of haircuts over the decades.

Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, even put a sticker on his window that read “Floyd’s Barber Shop” way back in 1990, during that first Mayberry Day celebration. The name stuck, and thousands upon thousands of tourists flocked to his shop to see the real-life Floyd the Barber, the man many believe, at least in part, that Griffith used in building his fictional barber’s character on the show.

So Hiatt became a famous, living landmark to that show, and to the best that Mount Airy had to offer. No matter how many times he was asked, Hiatt was always willing to pause from whatever he was doing and pose for tourists wanting to take pictures of him and his shop. Everyone who knew him — from those who simply exchanged pleasantries to those who knew him as a close friend or relative — will tell you he always had a smile and a kind word. He was never too busy to spend a few minutes with individuals.

He was an honest, hard-working man who simply went about his business every day. He took care of his family, supported his relatives, offered a kind word and a smile and a few minutes of his time to everyone who needed it, and was a steady, productive member of the Mount Airy community all his life.

He became famous almost by accident, because of the growth of Mayberry Days along with the loyal and ardent nature of “The Andy Griffith Show” fans. The fame really didn’t change him, it only highlighted who he was as a person and gave him the opportunity to touch many more people.

And it gave us the opportunity to see what a real-life everyday hero is: someone who simply does the right thing, day after day, year after year, with or without fanfare.

Today, we hope the community will turn out for his funeral procession in large numbers, as a show of respect for him and what he stood for. And while Hiatt’s passing leaves an empty place in our community, it’s also an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how each of us can become heroes in the same way by simply being hard working, faithful to our families, supportive of our communities, kind and respectful to those around us.

In so doing, Hiatt’s presence in the community will never be totally lost, because each of us can carry on that spirit in our daily lives.

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