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February 26, 2022

When I served as the Senior Pastor at Morningside Baptist Church, Bob Martin, a local barber, visited for Sunday morning worship on occasion. I sat next to him at the Skillet Restaurant early the following day. Over bacon, eggs, and grits, Bob had a suggestion for me. “Tell the men in your congregation that if they got a decent haircut, they wouldn’t have to sit on the very back pew.” When Bob visited the church, I noticed that he sat on the back row of the sanctuary. I guess he was checking out the haircuts during my sermon.

Albert Einstein and other eccentrics notwithstanding, most people can’t tolerate a bad hair day. Yet, even the most elegant coiffure can suffer a blustery, windblown flyaway in early March or a steamy, hot weather meltdown in July. My gray hair is often in disarray because of one or the other.

Hairstylists have many stories to tell. When our daughter Betsy lived in Atlanta, her hairdresser received an urgent phone message from a regular customer. A friend had stopped in town en route to California. The visitor was a model who had an important photo shoot only two days away. While she was in Atlanta, the model asked her friend to color her hair. She had decided that she wanted to become a blond. Alcohol may or may not have been involved in the late-night decision.

When the model came into the stylist’s shop, she was not a blushing blond. She was blushing alright, but her hair was bright blue. Talk about a bad hair day! As a result of the amateur dye session,  she looked like a clown.

Her desperate request was, “Fix it!” She begged the stylist to make her a beautiful blond for her important appointment with the California photographer!

He did his usual professional job, spending several hours correcting the mistake. In the course of the conversation, he learned that the anticipated photoshoot was for the centerfold in Playboy magazine. Betsy never told me if her stylist bought a copy of the magazine to check out the young woman’s hairdo.

In Spartanburg, the local Salvation Army honors one person each year as their Toast of the Town. The annual dinner is a toast and roast recognition of their Citizen of the Year. When the late Judge Bruce Littlejohn, retired Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, was the honoree, as his pastor, I was invited to be one of the speakers. Judge Littlejohn was almost completely bald. In my remarks, I made a distinction between various kinds of baldness.

“A man who is bald on the front of his head is a great thinker,” I said. “A man who is bald on the crown of his head is a great lover.” Then looking toward Judge Littlejohn, I concluded, “A man who is bald all over thinks he’s a great lover.” Judge Littlejohn just grinned and rubbed his head.

The barbershop where I get my haircut and the beauty salon where Clare has her hair styled are one and the same. The telephones ring constantly. The stylist uses an answering machine to take the calls. Making appointments, changing appointments, doing whatever must be done to accommodate the clientele is the nature of the business.

One October day in 1997, Pam received a phone call on the answering machine at the shop. One of her regulars wanted to make an appointment, but it was not for herself this time. Former President George Bush and his wife Barbara were in town for the annual Spartanburg Regional Hospital Foundation fundraiser. President Bush was to be the guest speaker.

The caller said, “Pam, George, and Barbara Bush are in Spartanburg. Could you do Barbara Bush’s hair tomorrow?”

Pam agreed, and arrangements were made. After the call, she blurted out, “Y’all, I’m doing Barbara Bush’s hair tomorrow!”

For the rest of the day, the shop was buzzing. Everyone who came in had a comment about the former First Lady.

“I just loved her book about her dog, Millie’s Book.”

“You know, she’s a grandmother. In fact, she’s everyone’s grandmother.”

“The thing I like about her is she speaks her mind. She’s just a plain person.”

Later in the day, the telephone rang. Pam heard the same voice again. This time she answered immediately.

“Pam, since you’re coming to fix Barbara Bush’s hair, would you have time to give the President a trim, too?”

No chance that Pam would be speechless, “Oh my goodness! I would be honored!”

When she arrived at the Milliken Guest House, Pam was nervous. The Secret Service Agents didn’t ease her discomfort. She had purchased a new outfit for the occasion. Barbara Bush wore a terrycloth bathrobe. As Pam styled Mrs. Bush’s distinctive white hair, they talked about their children, just as any two mothers would do. Pam had almost completed Barbara’s hairdo when the former President came through the door wearing a matching white terrycloth robe.

Pam said the former President put her at ease. “As I cut his hair, he was on the telephone most of the time. He had to keep moving the phone from one ear to the other so that I could do a good job. I remember thinking, these are just ordinary people. There was no air of superiority about them.”

George Bush offered to pay Pam. Pam declined, saying it was her honor. The former President insisted, paying the usual fee for both Barbara’s styling and for his haircut.

Pam will never forget the day she spent trimming the Bushs.

Nobody wants to have a bad hair day, no matter their age.

Gray hair is a characteristic of normal aging. When this occurs varies from person to person. Whether you can detect it or not, nearly everyone has gray hair by the age of 75, men earlier than women. The exact age seems to be determined by heredity. Older people tend to develop gray hair because their hair follicles produce less pigment, and the hair becomes colorless.

Premature graying runs in families. My dad remembered a family with four sons that lived near the farm where he grew up. “All four of those boys were white-headed before they got out of high school.”

Gray hair is not actually gray, but it is a combination of dark and white hair. When our hair starts to turn, we tend to blame a high-pressure job, an illness, or even difficult children. In truth, the link between gray hair and stress is little more than folk wisdom. Numerous scientific studies show no connection.

The change in color due to aging is an internal process. Every hair cell makes a little hydrogen peroxide, but the amount builds up over time. Scientists have discovered that this accumulation blocks melanin production, the natural tint in hair.

As we age, our hair bleaches itself from the inside out.

So what are those of us who have gray hair to do? The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association estimates that as many as two out of every five American women choose to dye their graying hair. The number of men who dye their hair is smaller but increasing. Hair coloring is a temporary fix. The multibillion-dollar industry in hair color products depends on the regular renewing of color.

English writer P. G. Wodehouse once wrote that there’s only one cure for gray hair. “A Frenchman invented it,” he said. “It’s called the guillotine.”

Short of dying by using hair color or dying by losing our heads the French way, there is another alternative. Have you noticed that an increasing number of celebrities are leaving silver highlights as is? Richard Gere and George Clooney have opted to do so. It hasn’t hurt their appeal at all.

Singer Emmylou Harris, whose flowing locks turned before she was fifty, inspires other women. Emmylou says, “I’ve earned that gray, and I’m not changing it.” 

One aging fellow said that he was mighty proud of his dappled crown. He called it God’s graffiti!

The Bible teaches that we are to honor the elderly. They are the wisdom keepers and are to be treated with respect. “‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” (Leviticus 19:32)

Several years ago, I arrived at church with wet, windblown hair on a rainy, blustery Sunday in March. My first encounter was with a first-grade lad in a Sunday school class.

“Dr. Kirk, your hair looks like my dog.”

First-graders have a delightful way of speaking the truth!

I was definitely having a bad hair day.

“Do you mean that my hair is oily and matted and crawling with ticks and fleas?”

“No!” the six-year-old giggled. “I mean, your hair is the same color as my dog!”

He paused, looking at my hair. “You know what, Dr. Kirk? My dog is very old.”

One of the joys of being a pastor was visiting children’s Sunday School classes. I usually learned as much as the youngsters did. On this occasion, I might have quoted Proverbs 16:31. “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” Instead, I just chuckled.

Later I thought about the conversation. Perhaps commenting on the Hebrew proverb, actor George Bancroft said, “By common consent, gray hairs are a crown of glory – the only object of respect that can never excite envy.” There are both blessings and responsibilities that come with gray hair.

I will never be considered a silver fox like Paul Newman or Robert Redford. The simple honesty of a child informed me that my hair looked not like a fox at all but like his dog. It is not all bad when a child sees something about an old codger that reminds him of a beloved pet.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, storyteller, retired teacher, pastoral counselor, and pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that they are quickly forgotten unless these nonprofit organizations are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose those that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to St. Luke’s Free Clinic, 162 North Dean Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 542-2273.

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