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‘Mr. Bill’ a downtown fixture for 40 years
Bill Hollifield cut hair on Campbell Avenue and was known for his community activism.
Monday, March 4, 2013
They called him Mr. Bill, he cut their hair.
That barrel-chested man who’d wave clippers with such finesse, who stood at his post on the opposite side of wide storefront windows for more than 43 years. All but two of those years were spent downtown, in fact, on Campbell Avenue, where Bill Dean Hollifield practiced his trade.
Hollifield, a longtime Roanoke hair stylist known for his community activism and taut imperial mustache, died Saturday in Roanoke. He was 71.
His wife, Wanda Hollifield, said her husband died of congestive heart failure, an illness that had dogged him for about four years.
“All the sudden he just couldn’t go no more,” she said. “My heart is broken. I couldn’t have met any greater man in the world.”
The couple cut and styled hair together in a barbershop on Campbell Avenue, that community hub where baritone fraternizing might have been the only sound that persisted against the hum of buzzers and the snip-snip of scissors.
He told his jokes, and she would smile to herself.
“He had this connection with people,” Hollifield said. “He was funny, he was witty, he was crazy.”
A native of Spruce Pine, N.C., Bill Hollifield made his move to Roanoke in the early 1970s. He opened his first barbershop on Melrose Avenue. Two years later, he found a location downtown. His working name, “Mr. Bill” was short and simple, and it stuck with him even at home.
The pair met each other at the Hotel Roanoke in 1973. The Windsor Room was hot back then, a late-night spot for dancing.
“He was with someone else and I was with someone else,” Wanda Hollifield explained. “I thought, ‘Man that guy is dressed so cool.’ A little more flashy clothes than other people, he was just different.”
Within a few years, he’d trained her to cut hair, too, and they became a team.
An activist at heart, Bill Hollifield made a spirited run for a Roanoke City Council seat in 1976, just five years after moving to the city. And even though he withdrew from the race months later, when a problem developed with the petitions for his candidacy, his feisty passion for social improvement remained steadfast.
“I feel the annexed citizens and the apartment dwellers need someone to represent them,” Bill Hollifield had told a newspaper reporter. “I think the city can have better government if it’s not controlled by one little area — South Roanoke.”
He was thrust into the headlines again three years later, when a city real estate agent, angry about an $8.50 haircut two years prior, attacked him in a downtown restaurant. Hollifield sued the man for damages, claiming too that his business had suffered from the bad publicity.
A die-hard Washington Redskins fan, Hollifield and two others hatched a plan to avoid paying for season tickets and still attend home games. That season, in 1986, the trio worked as ushers at the Redskins’ stadium, making $15 an hour. He later told a reporter, “Believe me, we’re not doing it for the money.”
David Jones, the former owner of Marco Supply Co. in Roanoke, said he went to Hollifield for his haircuts for more than 40 years.
“Just did a super perfect job every time,” Jones said. “He knew his trade, and you have to really respect someone who knows their trade that well.”
Jones said he and Hollifield watched each other’s children grow up and have children of their own, that over the years his barber became someone with whom he could confide.
“I’m really going to miss Bill,” he said, sorrowfully. “I really enjoyed every minute I spent in his chair.”
Asked where he’d go for his next haircut, Jones gave an answer that might make any barber proud, especially Mr. Bill.
“No, I don’t know,” he said. “I might go shabby for a while.”
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