Ray Brewer, 78: Gladly cared for customers’ hair, lives

When Buckhead’s Ray Brewer died last week, his customers lost more than their favorite barber. They lost a friend.

“It was amazing how many people he touched and what a special place he offered in Atlanta,” said 63-year-old Michael A. Habif of Habif Properties, a customer of Brewer’s since the age of 12.

Brewer cut hair for a who’s who of Atlanta businessmen and politicians, including Jimmy Carter and other former governors, for more than 50 years.

Scott A. Fisher, a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, said he and many other customers went to Brewer for three or four decades and watched him give their children their first haircuts.

“It was not only his skill as a stylist but his warm personality and his genuine love for what he did and for his customers and their families that kept them coming back year after year,” Fisher said.

Raymond B. Brewer, 78, men’s hairstylist to generations of Atlantans, family man and devoted Catholic, died unexpectedly Jan. 19 after a brief illness.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Monday at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, with a reception to follow in the church social hall. Visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at A.S. Turner & Sons in Decatur.

Brewer, who was well past traditional retirement age, was still working full time cutting hair until five weeks ago, said Janet Brewer, his wife of 54 years.

“This was his hobby, as well as his way of providing for his family of five,” she said.

Brewer’s devotion to his customers “made him who he was probably more than his ability to cut hair,” his widow said.

“He was a fun person, and he knew the details of his customers’ lives,” she said. “If somebody was worried about his kid flunking school, he’d be sure the next time to ask about their grades.”

Brewer never forgot a customer – something Philip G. Skinner, one of Fisher’s law partners and a client of Brewer’s since 1975, can verify.

When Skinner’s first daughter was born in 1983, he brought a picture taken of her in the delivery room to the barber shop to show Brewer.

The doctor who delivered Skinner’s baby was wearing a surgical mask and cap over his head so that only his eyes were visible. Yet, Brewer instantly recognized the doctor and called his name.

“I cut his hair and recognized his eyebrows,” Skinner remembers Brewer saying. “That was Ray just being Ray.”

Habif first started getting his hair cut by Brewer at a salon across from Piedmont Hospital, called The Bushwhacker. He followed Brewer to other shops and to the location Brewer’s been for the past 30 years, Allen of Atlanta on Piedmont Road.

Habif’s 91-year-old father, a daughter, now 37, a son, now 35, and three of his five grandchildren have all had their hair cut by Brewer.

“Although Ray was a devout Catholic who attended daily mass for most of his adult life, the majority of his clientele was Jewish,” Habif said.

Clients typically had standing appointments for every two or three weeks on the same day and time.

“When you went to Ray’s shop, you knew the person in the chair who was finishing their appointment,” Habif said. “If you didn’t know them, Ray would introduce you and explain the client’s connection to someone you knew.”

Fisher said he was amazed by the size and loyalty of Brewer’s clients, who included well-known businessmen Doug Hertz of United Distributors and Steve Selig of Selig Enterprises.

“I’m a fairly successful lawyer in a major Atlanta law firm and I’ve said for years if I had Ray’s customers as my legal clients I could have retired years ago,” he said.

Clients looked on Brewer as a friend, and the feeling seemed mutual.

When Brewer had a brain tumor in the 1980s, he built up a collection of ball caps, compliments of his clients, his wife said.

Many of Brewer’s clients are regulars in the Peachtree Road Race, and each year – including last year – Brewer was in his same spot, cheering.

“We always made sure to swing by and say hello,” Skinner said.

Brewer also charged longtime customers less for a haircut than newer patrons. But there were no known reports of any complaints.

At Sunday’s visitation, a poem by one of Brewer’s longtime customers will be on display, Janet Brewer said. The author describes Brewer’s disposition as “merry” and talks of his ability to make his customers, whether they be rabbis or real estate agents, happy.

Brewer’s survivors include his wife, children Margo, Mark and Meggan, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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