Elmer Wright, 85, longtime Baltimore barber

October 12, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

There were two things you could be assured of getting when you went to Art Barber Shop when Elmer Wright was working: a good haircut and some knowledge. Mr. Wright doled out equal doses of both.

Mr. Wright, 85, died Oct. 5 from a heart attack at University of Maryland Medical Center. He had worked at the three-chair barber shop at Fremont and Edmondson avenues for more than 50 years before retiring last year and was the only barber many of his customers ever had.

"Being a barber is an art," said his grandson, Michael Rice of Baltimore. "And he developed his art over a period of time so that people just kept coming back over and over again."

A tall, solidly built man with strong, thick hands and a gentle personality, Mr. Wright -- known as Deacon Wright by many -- was a Master Barber (licensed, tenured and able to teach) whose love of barbering was rivaled by his love of the Orioles.

"He had season's tickets and each evening he'd pack up and go to the game," Mr. Rice said. Over the years, Mr. Wright cut the hair of many Orioles, including Paul Blair, Elrod Hendricks and Curt Motton.

Although sports was his forte, friends said he knew a little of everything -- politics, history, the environment, food, whatever. Some said he was a virtual trivia machine.

"He knew dates of events that he could recall off the top of his head without missing while he cut hair," said Devon Childs, a former patron. "He was amazing for all he knew."

A native of Cartersville, S.C., Mr. Wright came to Baltimore in 1935 and worked for a Baltimore construction company until about 1937. He then worked as a forklift operator for the Joseph C. Seagram liquor company in Relay until 1977, when he began devoting his time solely to barbering.

He was a barber before he arrived in Baltimore and cut hair and chatted up his customers daily at Art Barber Shop after coming from his other jobs.

"He just enjoyed doing it. He just had that style and that flair for hair," said his daughter, Mable Wright Lewis of Baltimore. "And once you get that reputation out there, people just come to you."

Mr. Wright was a member of Emmanuel Christian Community Church in West Baltimore since 1955. He was ordained a deacon 1967 and served as chairman of the deacon board for 12 years. He was also a member of the church's Art Sewing Guild and bible class.

Mr. Wright was a 32nd degree member of the Masons, having joined in 1942. He enjoyed traveling and visited Spain, Africa, Aruba and the Bahamas in his retirement.

He was an avid sports fan, especially Baltimore sports. He had Orioles and Ravens season tickets. He was honored by the Orioles in 1984 at Memorial Stadium for his long devotion.

"He was so close to baseball he was like one of the Orioles," said Mr. Childs. "He was like a baseball man with a set of hair clippers. That's what he was."

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Emmanuel Christian Community Church, Carrollton Avenue and West Lanvale Street.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Hattie Mae Jackson whom he married in 1933; another daughter, Cynthia Wright Rock of Baltimore; two brothers, Aubrey Wright Jr. of Baltimore and James C. Wright of Suitland; three sisters, Mary S. Jackson of Baltimore, Margaret Bristow of Winston-Salem, N.C. and Lorraine Burgess of New York; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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