Jack Mitchell was a barber in Rock Hill. He never did anything else but cut hair.
Mitchell’s 61-year career ended at age 76 with his death Wednesday, but he was much more than a guy with scissors in a place smelling of aftershave and Barbisol.
Dennis Norman, retired military, said he has been a customer for 32 years.
“Jack Mitchell knew how to give a buzz cut, a high and tight, whatever a guy wanted,” Norman said. “He wasn’t a barber. He was a friend. He was a legend.”
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Mitchell’s death shocked his loyal patrons. Some, like Norman, only learned about his passing Friday while pulling into the gravel lot of Mitchell’s tiny shop on Mount Gallant Road hoping for a trim, and seeing flowers. Many of them cried.
Mitchell had a heart attack Jan. 29 after a full day on his feet cutting hair, and never went back to work. A month later he was gone.
“At least 43 years, maybe more, Jack cut my hair,” said Joe Simpson, a York County constable police officer. “My son, he’s 26, and nobody but Jack Mitchell has ever cut his hair.”
Mitchell cut the hair of congressmen and governors and judges and politicians and lawyers and ditch diggers. He cut any man’s hair, but he specialized in cops and soldiers. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of area military and law enforcement sat in his old-style barber chair and listened to Jack talk.
Mitchell followed in his father’s footsteps as a barber, as did his brother, Clifford. The barbering Mitchell brothers cut hair in Rock Hill through the Vietnam War and counterculture and hippies and punk rock and mop tops and every other fad. Clifford died in 2016, and Jack stayed on.
“Jack went to hospitals and nursing homes and gave haircuts he never charged for,” said brother Charlie Mitchell. “He went to funeral homes and cut the hair of people who were gone so they looked their best. There were some Jack gave them their first haircut in life and their last one in death. And every haircut in between.”
Customer Robert Rainey, 76, said he was Mitchell’s first customer 61 years ago. He never had a haircut from anyone else.
Now the shop -- festooned with historic Rock Hill pictures from bygone days -- is dark without customers for the first time since Jack Kennedy was president.
“Jack loved his customers, knew every one of them by name,” said Mitchell’s wife of 56 years, Marie. “This shop right here, it is so silent and quiet, it is almost like the shop is sad, too.”
Mitchell’s son, John, and daughter, Tracy Mitchell Sullivan, said their father’s customers were loyal and friends.
“My father appreciated every person who walked through the door,” Sullivan said. “Many days, the shop was closed after a full day of work and people stayed for an hour or more, just talking.”
Simpson hugged Mitchell’s widow Friday.
“Jack Mitchell was not my barber,” Simpson said. “He was my friend.”
It remains unclear if the shop will re-open with someone else cutting hair, family said.