Farewell, Friend

WENDELL BAKER gets a laugh from customer Fred Schwab earlier this year at his barbershop in Lexington. (Claudia Schwab photo)

WENDELL BAKER gets a laugh from customer Fred Schwab earlier this year at his barbershop in Lexington. (Claudia Schwab photo)

Matt Paxton

Ink Spots

An old friend left us recently. I’m talking about Wendell Baker, who cut my hair for at least

50 years. But Wendell did a lot more than cut hair. As one speaker, John Tucker, at Wendell’s funeral last Saturday remarked, “Wendell should have been called Doctor. He had the ability to make you feel better when you left his shop.”

That statement really hit home to me. I had been grappling with how to characterize my relationship with Wendell Baker over the years, and John Tucker described it so well. Wendell always asked about my family members and friends we had in common. His memory of visitors we had taken to his shop for a trim was uncanny. I took a friend from Illinois in for a haircut 20 years ago, and Wendell would periodically ask how he was doing.

He usually had something to say about something he’d read in either The News-Gazette or the Roanoke Times, but he usually started the discussion by asking if I’d seen the story and what did I think of it.

I remember when he first started barbering at the old Robert E. Lee Hotel barber shop. There were several older barbers working there and he was the young guy. When the hotel barber shop closed, I followed him down to the Jefferson Street shop where his barber pole turned for the next many decades.

I confess that there were sometimes when I didn’t go to Wendell for my haircuts. Of course, when I was in college and afterwards when I worked in Lynchburg, I went to local shops for a trim. Once, when a salon opened that advertised itself as a unisex shop, I gave them a try. I confess, I didn’t like having my hair washed as a part of the process, and there wasn’t much conversation. But, by and large, from the time I was a young boy until recently, when Wendell’s health prevented him from being open on a regular basis, I was in his chair about every three weeks or so.

I like my bartenders, doctors and barbers to be communicators. Besides being good at their professions, good ones will tell you the truth, and give their honest opinion. Wendell Baker was all of the above. Wendell Baker’s truths and opinions were invariably positive and his basic kindness and integrity shown through.

Lexington and the Rock-bridge area are places where many people live their whole lives. Others come and end up staying for years. We tend to know our neighbors, and the people we interact with at the bank, the grocery store and the barbershop become friends, or at least acquaintances. I like that about where we live.

But with that sense of community that we feel here comes the concomitant sense of loss we experience when we lose someone who was a part of our lives. I saw on Saturday in the First Baptist Church what an impact Wendell had made on his family, his church and the community at large.

Godspeed, Dr. Wendell Baker.

The News-Gazette

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Lexington, VA 24450
(540) 463-3113

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