Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Death of barber leaves void in Fircrest

Grady Bryan was just the second barber to operate in Fircrest in the past 65 years, and his death two weeks ago deprived him of the sendoff that his predecessor Bob Whitsell received.

That wouldn’t have bothered Grady Bryan.

“Grady was a character, but he kept to himself,” said friend Perry Panagiotu, “He was a simple, good guy. There was no real drama. What he had to say made sense. Grady didn’t just jabber to hear himself.”

For generations of customers, the two barbers were community servants known only by their job title and first names.

Barber Bob operated the Fircrest Barber Shop from 1948 through 1988, getting a two-page spread in The News Tribune upon retirement. Barber Grady bought it in 1989, kept the name and worked it until the day before he died.

Both men cut the hair of mayors and school kids, businessmen and teenagers.

“These people aren’t just my customers, they’re my friends,” Barber Bob told the News Tribune upon his retirement . “I’ve given haircuts to boys whose grandfathers’ hair I cut.”

Barber Bob left the shop at age 73, lived another 22 years after that.

Barber Grady? As Panagiotu said, he kept to himself. None of those who knew him seemed to know his age or much about his life before he became their barber. He was married and had two stepchildren, but they didn’t return our calls last week.

“Grady lived in a rented room in Tacoma,” one customer said. “I don’t know much about his wife, but I do know Grady lived alone in that room.”

When there were no customers, Barber Grady could be seen standing outside his shop smoking. And if he wasn’t smoking, and business was quiet, there were other options.

“Anyone who drove by could see him in the window, sometimes napping in the barber chair,” Fircrest resident Andy Hobbs said.

Barber Bob had done the same things, friends said — and had a few quirks of his own.

“It didn’t matter if there were customers waiting or not, Bob took an hour for lunch,” said Fircrest Mayor Dave Viafore, whose deli in the 600 block of Regents Boulevard shared a furnace with the barber shop. “He wouldn’t leave, he’d just stop working, get out his food and eat.”

Five years ago, a customer left an online review of Barber Grady:

“Grady is a neat guy who wears flannel shirts and cowboy boots. He likes to chat … he’s definitely not politically correct. I told him I wanted a haircut and didn’t even have to describe anything to him. He gave me a type of haircut that makes it not-so-obvious that I don’t have a lot of hair. “

One day not long after Barber Grady had taken over the shop, Viafore was cooking in the deli and dropped a pot, which banged loudly on the floor.

“I looked up and Grady came racing in with a gun,” Viafore remembered. “He said, ‘I thought I heard a shot.’ I think he had three guns over there.”

Though a heavily armed haircutter, Barber Grady also had more subtle pleasures.

“He loved classical music and would play it while you got your hair cut,” Panagiotu said. “He read a lot, too. There was a goodness in the man.”

For years, there was an aging sign outside the shop that grew more and more decrepit. Panagiotu couldn’t help but notice.

“I told him that sign looked like a beaver had chewed through it — after it fell off a truck and caught on fire,” Panagiotu said. “Finally I wanted to surprise him. I built a new sign for him, and he was so grateful.

“That shop was his community. The customers were his friends.”

In the days before his death, Barber Grady hadn’t felt well, one customer said. On Friday and Saturday, at the urging of friends, he went home early.

“One of the guys said he’d check on him in the morning,” the customer said. “The next morning, Grady was gone.”

Viafore said he’s lost more than his barber, more than a neighbor. When he announced the unexpected death at the last Fircrest City Council meeting, a collective gasp rose from the crowded room.

“Grady is going to leave a void,” Viafore said. “He loved being the only barber in Fircrest. He loved Fircrest.”