Barbers in small towns don’t come by the dozen. Usually, there’s just one. In this scenic north Okanagan community, it was Bob Egely.
For more than 40 years, Mr. Egely was the guy with the striped pole outside the shop who cut the townspeople’s locks, chewed the fat with them over a head of hair, and became as much a fixture of Enderby as its popular Starlight Drive-In theatre.
But two years ago, after a series of medical calamities, Mr. Egely suffered one of the worst fates that could befall a barber: He lost his legs, both amputated above the knee, and Enderby lost its good old barber shop.
Yes, there were hair stylists, but nowhere a guy could get a regular haircut for 15 bucks and a chance to catch up on the local gossip as well.
“It’s what every small town needs,” Mayor Howie Cyr said. “A good family doctor and a barber shop.”
Stuck at home, Mr. Egely found himself staring out the window from his wheelchair at people who could walk and resenting them. He began dreaming that one day he might be a barber again.
And now it’s happened – at 67, Bob the Barber is back in business.
Besides his own indomitable spirit, his return is due to an astonishing, one-of-a-kind barber chair that can not only lift him off the floor, but allows him to circle his customers for shaves, “short back and sides” and everything else he used to do.
The motorized, $65,000 chair was designed and built by a group of engineers at the University of Victoria, with federal and provincial funding, who spend their days developing technological solutions to specific problems of the disabled.
Darcy Lane, manager of hardware engineering for the UVic program known as CanAssist, says the special chair, likened by Mr. Egely to a spaceship, is their most complex and satisfying project so far. “Bob put in a request for help. It took us six months. Making something simple is often complicated, and there’s nothing like this anywhere.”
On Thursday, Mr. Egely gave it a whirl for the first time.
“You’re up,” he told 92-year-old John Harrison, a long-time friend with a thick thatch of white hair. In a matter of moments, Mr. Egely’s whirring clippers were hard at work and locks of Mr. Harrison’s hair littered the floor.
By the time he was finished, barber and customer could not have been more satisfied. “It looks good, real good,” Mr. Harrison said, after glancing in the mirror.
Mr. Egely, sitting in his sleek new chair like a big, smiling, barber-shop Buddha, gave the contraption 9.75 out of 10.
“It’s like I had legs again,” he said. “I can pretty well do everything I could do before. It’s fantastic, even better than I expected.”
Daughter Nicole Simkiw watched her father’s every move, marvelling at his perseverance. “I’m thinking of my dictionary back home, and the word ‘tenacity’ comes to mind,” she said quietly.
Although Bob’s Barber Shop doesn’t reopen officially until Tuesday, a steady stream of previous customers and friends kept coming in for his trial run. As of yore, most headed straight for the free coffee and began talking.
Sure, they’re glad Mr. Egely can cut their hair again, but best off all, his shop is back. “He’s the local barber. It’s the gossip centre for the old-timers, the place where all the rumours go,” said retiree John Pavelich.
Councillor Greg McCune said talk used to get so hot at Mr. Egely’s old shop, he stopped going.
“Bob and his crew used to grill you. There’d be a dozen guys in there and he wasn’t cutting any hair,” Mr. McCune reflected. “But it was all good. I poked my head in there every now and then to see how the town was being run. It’s awesome he’s back.”
“You got a haircut and you got the local flavour, at no extra charge,” added Mr. Cyr, a frequent customer in the past, particularly during his 10 years as head of the local RCMP detachment. “You never had to ask Bob to take a little more off. He knew. Guys like him are the only ones around now who can really do an old-style haircut.”
Mr. Egely, meanwhile, is enjoying every minute of his celebrated return to barbering, and has even signed a five-year lease.
“I’m going to be the talk of the town,” he said, “a real novelty. ‘Hey, you gotta see that crazy bastard sitting in his chair.’ Oh, yeah.”