Hairstylist not ready to put down scissors after six decades

Posted Saturday, Feb. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders There are women in Fort Worth who wouldn't think of allowing anyone other than Vann Martin to do their hair.

They have followed him for decades. When he changed locations -- about six times over the years -- they went with him, including the woman, now in her 90s, who was his first customer when he started working in his father's shop 62 years ago.

"It was my first day, and my father was busy, and he told her, 'My son can help you,'" recalled Martin, who turns 86 this month.

Some of his customers were a little worried in the summer of 2011 when the shop he owned on Fort Worth's west side lost its lease. But Martin was not about ready to hang up his blow dryer and scissors.

Another salon owner, Robert Neely, was expanding his shop to 5,000 square feet at the time and offered to lease space to Martin, who accepted. All the workers from his old shop, including his brother, moved with him to the Neely O'Hair salon on Camp Bowie Boulevard, across from the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art.

Martin was born in a farmhouse outside Chillicothe near the Panhandle, and he proudly points out that his father paid the doctor who delivered him not with money, but a 200-pound pregnant sow.

The family moved to Fort Worth in 1943 when Martin was in high school. After graduating from Arlington Heights, he joined the Navy. The day he received his orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, he said, was the same day the president died.

Returning to Fort Worth after World War II, Martin spent six months training in hairstyling, then joined his dad at the shop at Camp Bowie and Hulen Street.

Martin's father, Ocie, was a barber in the "Roaring '20s," when women came to have their hair cut into the "jazz-age" bob. He became a Texas pioneer in hairstyling, Martin said, creating a permanent wave heat process for women who wanted waves and curls.

Three of his father's four sons would follow him into the business, and Martin, who after a couple of years with his father opened his own shop on Bluebonnet Circle, became an innovator himself.

In the 1960s, he said, he went to London several times "to watch the evolution in hair" with Vidal Sassoon, bringing back to Fort Worth the geometric haircutting style and the use of "blow drying as a finish." At the American Airlines flight training academy, Martin said, he was part of team that taught grooming to flight attendants, creating hair and makeup to complement the uniforms. Martin named only one of his notable customers, the late Edna Gladney, who founded the renowned home and adoption center for pregnant girls.

He said that when Gladney came to have her hair done, she would bring "two or three of the girls working through the emotions of giving up a child." He "volunteered" his services for the young women.

Martin is the father of three children by his first wife, Patsy, who died about 10 years ago. They were married more than 50 years. He has been married eight years to his second wife, Sue, who was with her first husband almost 50 years before his death.

"We feel like the Lord put us together," Sue said, pointing out that they both serve as greeters for Sunday services at Christ Chapel Bible Church.

As for retirement, Martin said, "I don't think about it. I'll continue to do [hair] for as long as I choose."

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

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Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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