‘Going Home to Shake Hands with The Lord’

Remembering Gary Brown

Gary Brown makes his last stop Saturday at his barbershop on Congress Street. (Photo/Barbara Ball)

Gary Brown makes his last stop Saturday at his barbershop on Congress Street. (Photo/Barbara Ball)

WINNSBORO (Aug. 12, 2016) – When men like Gary Brown, men who have become so ingrained in the fiber of the community that one can no longer separate the man from the place or the place from the man, when men who have become institutions in their community leave this world for their Final Reward, the rest of us are left to wonder, for a time at least, just how this Earth will continue to turn.

On Aug. 3, 2016, the man who, referring to his nightly constitutional of a half pint of Lord Calvert Canadian whiskey, would often say at the end of a long day at his barbershop or filming a football game or a Town Council meeting, “I’m going home to shake hands with the Lord,” literally did just that.

Gary Brown was many things to many people. A son, a father, a grandfather, even a great-grandfather. A husband, remarkably enough, at one time or another. For more than 50 years, he was the proverbial Town Barber, a maker of trophies and plaques, videographer of local government meetings and The Voice of the Griffins. A golfing partner, bookie and drinking buddy. And an instant old friend; the minute you met him, he treated you like he’d known you all your life.

I first came to Winnsboro in 2002 as an eager young reporter with The Herald-Independent. On my first day of work the senior reporter, Bobb Hane, took me out of the office so I could meet all the big important people – the local dignitaries, as it were – whom I would need to know in order to be any kind of successful at my job. I’m thinking, ‘OK. I’m probably going to meet the mayor, a couple of council members, an administrator or two, maybe the sheriff.’

The first place Hane took me was straight across the street to meet the town barber.

‘Where the heck am I?’ I remember thinking. ‘The most important dignitary on their list is the town barber . . . ? They actually have a town barber here?’

Right away, Gary treated me like he’d always known me. Like I belonged here. It wasn’t long before I was calling football and basketball games with him, and together we logged a lot of miles across the state. We saw a lot of football together, most of it good. We had a lot of times together. Most of them were good, too. I never regretted knowing the man.

“The first year I moved here was Gary’s first year on the radio (WCKM-AM),” Robert Sharpe said. “He did our first state championship out here at Winnsboro High School. It was 1969. The games would be broadcast on a delay on Saturday morning, and all the football players would sit and listen to Gary on the radio like he was a big celebrity. Before the games, Gary would come in and he’d say ‘How many are we going to beat ‘em by tonight?’ He wanted to know because he always had a side bet going on somewhere.

“Anything you wanted from Gary, he tried to get it done,” Sharpe said. “There’s no doubt about that. I think he’s going to be really missed by a lot of people. I don’t believe people realize what all Gary did do until this year when they’re missing him.”

“He saw a lot of football around here,” Demetrius Davis, head football coach at Fairfield Central High School, said. “When it comes to football in Fairfield County, Gary Brown is going to be missed. He’s been calling games for a lot of years. I remember him calling games when I was in high school and I still have some VHS tapes of some of his games. Everybody used to look forward to watching his replays during the week in Fairfield County. That was one of the days when everybody went and watched TV. As a high school kid you get a chance to see yourself on TV and listen to some of the nice things he said about you. He’s going to be truly missed and it’s going to be tough to replace a guy that had the passion for football in Winnsboro and providing a lot of attention to high school football and high school football players.”

“He was one of the mainstays, the foundation of support when I was there,” said S.C. State University head football coach Buddy Pough. Pough was head man at Fairfield Central from 1994 to 1996, leading the Griffins to a state title his final year. “He always helped us, whatever we needed. I always enjoy going back and looking at his work and seeing our games during our championship year there. Gary was a good friend during my time there.”

“He was a good guy,” Reggie Kennedy, the Griffins’ head football coach from 2002-2005 and 2008-2010. “He treated me really well when I was there and did a great job covering the games. If you wanted to know anything about the history of Winnsboro, all you had to do was ask him. He knew it. The first time I met him over at his barber shop, I couldn’t believe he was a barber. I thought he was in there getting a haircut. But I met him there and I got a chance to be a part of the barber shop talk for a little while.”

“Gary was always unbiased,” Deputy County Administrator Davis Anderson said. “He did everything we needed him to do to get the (County Council) meetings filmed. He was always a good spokesperson for Fairfield County, and he was always there for the high school football games.”

“I met Gary Brown in 1971, when I got back from Vietnam,” said Lawrence Brown, a longtime friend and a big part of Gary’s video productions. “When a new person came into town and came into the barbershop, Gary treated them like he already knew them. And when they left that barbershop, he always told them if there was anything he could do for them, just let him know. And he meant it. We’re going to miss his voice and we’re going to miss his personality.”

“Good old Gary Brown was exactly that: Good Old Gary Brown,” said former County Councilman David Brown. “He always looked out for people. He loved the county, and he loved people. He’d let you know what he believed – you might not agree with him, but he’d let you know. He provided a service in Winnsboro that’s a dying breed – an old timey barber.

“You had to catch him between long-winded political speeches or he wouldn’t stop cutting your hair, and you couldn’t get him too riled up or you’d leave the chair bald,” Brown said. “But he always cut my hair the way I wanted it cut. We’ll miss having an old timey barbershop where you could sit and get caught up on everything. It’s the end of an era.”

“If you saw his hands shaking, you got a little nervous in that barber chair,” Winnsboro Town Councilman Stan Klaus said. Klaus was also a founding member of Gary Brown Video Productions, helping Gary with the selection of equipment and the productions of broadcasts. Klaus fondly recalled tinkering with the equipment on an election night in the early 1990s, turning what was meant to be a delayed airing into a live feed and giving Gary the surprise of his life.

What will Klaus miss the most?

“The barbershop B.S.,” he said. “Gary Brown could come off the wall with a rumor. If you go to a beautician, she’s got the rumor, but she can substantiate it. But Gary Brown was always like ‘I heard this . . .’ Well, where did you hear it? ‘Oh, I can’t tell you. . . .’ He was like the town crier, from talking to the people who came into his shop. Now, whether it was true or whether it wasn’t . . . ?

“I’ll miss his friendship,” Klaus said. “I’ll miss talking to some of the other people who came into the barbershop. I would spend an hour, an hour and a half in the shop, talking to the other people who came in. These are the things you take for granted, but that you’ll miss down the road.”

“Where are all the men in town going to be able to keep up with everything politically and gossip-wise?” Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy wondered. “He probably attended more Council meetings than any other person in town, including Council members. That was one unique perspective he had, because of his longevity, filming meetings for as long as he did. He knew more about what was going on with those political bodies than members of the political bodies did.”

“I’ve known Gary since 1965,” said Ed Ellenburg, an All-State quarterback for Winnsboro High in 1967. “He came here to cut hair with Slim Mattox. I was in the 10th grade and playing football. I went in to get a haircut. I didn’t know what to expect. I sat up in that chair and all he talked about was sports, and I thought ‘we’re going to get along just fine.’ We played a lot of golf together. He couldn’t count. He could play golf, but he couldn’t count. He would make an 8 on a hole and say he got a 5.”

Ellenburg said he’ll miss the stories Gary would tell while cutting hair more than the haircuts themselves.

“He’d tell the same story four different ways,” Ellenburg said. “He would say ‘I swear this is true,’ and I knew right then it wasn’t. My sister came up from Florida one time and Gary cut her hair. Gary was probably the worst barber in the country, but my sister said it was the best haircut she’d ever had.”

We laid Gary to rest Saturday morning, a half pint of Lord Calvert and an assortment of golf balls and tees tucked in beside him. His obituary can be found on page 5 of our Aug. 11 edition as well as here on this website. What others in the community say about him tells the rest.