“It has really been a trip.”
That is how Shirley Burns described her more than six decade career of cutting hair and having good conversations Friday as she put down her scissors and clippers for the last time.
Burns, who just turned 80 in January, smiles as she looks back on almost exactly 62 years of cutting hair as a barber and the new family she has made along the way. Her clients have included many of the prominent men in the county, even those who have only stayed here briefly such as the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll” — Elvis Presley.
Burns said the reason for her retiring now was just because it felt like the right time after putting it off for the past few years, and she wanted to retire the same month she started.
“The rule is that you are supposed to leave while they are still applauding, that is what they say in show business,” Burns said. “I like just about anything to do with outside, so I am looking forward to having the liberty to just take a walk if I want to.”
Burns, who was born in Killeen as one of 10 children, said she and her siblings learned the value of hard work and earning an honest living from their father at an early age.
After graduating from high school, Burns said she knew college would not be an option for her and her family with how many siblings she had. Instead of higher education she decided to peruse going to beauty school, which she later traded for barber school after not enjoying her first day.
Once Burns graduated and became a barber, she got a job straight away in Killeen and became one of the first female barbers in the area at that time.
It was while Burns was working in Killeen that she happened to get the chance to cut the hair of one of her idols — Elvis Presley — as he completed his basic training at Fort Hood.
Burns, and her six sisters, had been fans of Presley while they were in school and would watch him on television under the supervision of their father. Burns said she always would make the subjects of her essays or written assignments in school about Presley. Her speech teacher, Ms. Franz, said she hoped Burns would one day get to meet him.
“I had just started working, and I am sure that if he had known how green I was he wouldn’t have let me touch his hair,” Burns said. “I met the Presleys, and I thought of Ms. Franz because I never dreamed I would meet Elvis Presley in my life. But I did, and I got to cut his hair.”
In 1969, after hearing that Morgan’s Point Resort was soon going to incorporate as its own town, Burns’s husband decided to open a liquor store on some land the two had previously bought.
Burns said the two originally didn’t know where the land they had bought was even located before the decided to open the store. As the building was being constructed, her husband offered some space at the back of the store for her to open up her own barbershop, which she accepted.
Since moving out to the small community, Burns has only operated by having customers making appointments in her one-chair shop.
Over the years Burns and her customers have grown close, knowing some of them for almost 60 years and coming to think of them as her second family. While some of the customers have been prominent in the community, Burns said she has always treated them equally.
“Here at my little barbershop, nobody is more important than another,” Burns said. “There are so many people that are important to me at this little barbershop that, no matter what they do, one person is just as big as another one.”
One of Burns’s many long-time customers has been local businessman Drayton McLane Jr., who has been coming to the barbershop for more than 15 years.
McLane said the first thing he did when he learned Burns was thinking about retiring was try and talk her out of it as he had done in previous years. He said Burns always has been good about knowing what to talk to her customers about, and has never been one for gossip.
“She has been delightful and efficient, and you felt you had a wonderful experience every time you went,” he said. “I went almost every two weeks, and I looked forward to it because the conversations were inspiring, uplifting and I learned a lot. One of the good things was she never gossiped or told rumors; it was always inspiring stories she had seen.”
Retired district judge Stan Pemberton, who has been a customer of Burns’ for at least the past 50 years, said she exhibits the highest traits as a biblical Christian person and he was going to miss her company.
“She is just about as high class of a human as I have ever met, and she draws wonderful people,” Pemberton said. “She is just such a pleasure to deal with because she is very insightful, she is without gossip and she sees the best in everything and everybody.”
While Burns is now retired, she decided to sell her business to a fellow female barber who she thinks will do a good job in taking over her business. The new barber, Hilda Hamilton, is set to take over the shop starting Tuesday with Burns’ list of appointments.
Both McLane and Pemberton said that while they are sad to see Burns retire, they trust her judgment in picking a replacement that can fill her shoes.