ASHEBORO — Tommy Waugh has been working in barber shops since he was 12 years old. Sixty-one years later, he’s leaving the hair to someone else.
Waugh has been a professional barber for 52 years. On the week before Christmas, he and his partner, Scott Caudle, closed MidTown Barber & Styling to ride off into the sunset. Caudle is a relative newcomer, having only cut hair for 45 years.
One of Waugh’s last clients was Joyce Harrington. “She’s been a customer for 25 years,” he said of his friend and former Asheboro School Board colleague. “It’s bittersweet. We served on the school board together. These (hair customers) are my best friends.”
Waugh said he first started working in Tommy Johnson’s Professional Barber & Styling in 1962, sweeping floors and doing odd jobs. After graduation from Asheboro High School in 1969, Waugh spent nine months at Winston-Salem Barber College learning the basics of cutting men’s hair. Then he went back to Johnson’s shop to work professionally.
One of his colleagues there was Caudle. They continued working in Johnson’s shop for about 20 years until 1989 when they opened their own salon on White Oak Street.
“Barber school didn’t teach skills for ladies’ hair,” Waugh said. “I wanted more knowledge and took classes and courses all over the country. I took a class in Toronto, Canada, on how to use a curling iron. I bought one and brought it back but hid it so nobody would know I had it since I wasn’t good at it.”
But Waugh became better with women’s hair. Eventually, he entered competitions, winning trophies and three national championships.
Leaving the stylist’s chair won’t be easy for the gregarious Waugh. “I meet a lot of people and learn a lot,” he said. “Women want the best (with their hair), guys not so much. Women have pushed us into knowledge. I took any course I could to be able to do cuts women wanted. They motivated us.”
Over the years, Waugh has seen numerous changes in hairstyles but none so influential as those of Dorothy Hamill and Farrah Fawcett. Hamill was the gold medalist in figure skating at the 1980 Olympics and made popular her wedge haircut. Fawcett became famous in the 1970s for the “Fawcett Flip.”
“Farrah Fawcett and Dorothy Hamill sold more haircuts than anybody,” Waugh said.
Compared to what Fawcett and Hamill did for hair styling, COVID-19 did the opposite, he said. “COVID changed everything. We were closed for 10 or 11 weeks and have never fully recovered. I lost 12 customers to COVID and others are not comfortable being out. It’s just different now.”
Meanwhile, Harrington sat in the chair while Waugh took care of her locks while talking about his career. Asked why she kept coming back to him, she said simply, “He’s good.” Waugh responded, “We’ve grown up together,” not only in the salon but as school board members.
“I’ve done this all my life and it’s been fun,” Waugh said. “The hard part is leaving fun people. It’s been a great adventure. I wouldn’t be here without the Johnsons, Tommy and his wife Janet.”
Waugh said he’s unsure about the next phase of his life. “I’ll be 73 in January. I’ll take it a day at a time and see where I’m supposed to go. But I want to be around people. I’m going to travel. I have places to go.”
Waugh’s wife Rachel still works part-time from home and her hours are flexible. So they’ll be able to make plans for future adventures.
As for the salon, Waugh and Caudle will be renting it to a local man just starting out in the hair business. “We’re fortunate to find someone to leave the equipment with,” he said.
Waugh may be leaving the salon but he’ll still be in town. “This town and people have been so good to us,” he said.