Rosario `Sol' Cicero, 105, city barber whose clients included public officials

October 21, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Rosario "Sol" Cicero, a Baltimore barber to an era of public officials, died Thursday of a heart ailment and pneumonia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 105.

He cut hair for 70 years in the heart of the city for a clientele that included downtown businessmen and lawyers, governors and even prizefighters, until he retired in 1980. His customer roster read like a who's who of the officials at the time -- including Mayor and Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin, Rep. Edward A. Garmatz, Govs. Albert C. Ritchie and Herbert R. O'Conor, and Judge Anselm Sodaro.

There were even father-and-son customers, Rep. and Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. and Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III.

"He was a great friend of these politicians. He listened and he kept his mouth shut," said his son, John R. Cicero of Lake Suzy, Fla. "If they asked him for his opinion, he told them in a practical way."

"He listened and he learned," said Rose C. Hudson, the daughter with whom he lived for the past 4 1/2 years in Towson.

Fighter Jack Dempsey visited him. Local fighters sat still in his barber chair.

He long had a shop on Guilford Avenue by City Hall. When Mr. Cicero lost his lease in the 1960s, he moved to the Court House Barber Shop, a small shop on East Lexington Street, to keep his established area clientele.

Though he'd cut back on work hours by then, Mr. Cicero quit in 1980 -- at age 83 -- because of his exasperation with problems with the buses he took to work, he told The Sun at the time. He had kept working until then, Mr. Cicero said, because he loved the people.

He was born in Cefalu, Sicily, and immigrated with his family to Baltimore's Little Italy when he was 8 years old. He attended elementary school there, and at age 13 he apprenticed in his brother's barbershop on Pratt Street, near the Flag House. He started out sweeping floors, cleaning mirrors, lathering and combing hair. After three months, he began making 50 cents a week.

Mr. Cicero served as president of the city's Association of Master Barbers in the 1920s.

He recalled, for the newspaper article, working long hours six days a week -- from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. weekdays and until midnight Saturdays. Later, he became the first downtown barber to get off his feet earlier in the day. He closed all day Wednesday and at 5 p.m. other days because, he said, he wanted some time for himself. In the 1970s, he trimmed his hours more to accommodate his card-playing.

"He was a good card player," Mrs. Hudson said, recalling that her father won a local pinochle tournament when he was about 30 years old.

He married Rosaria DiPaola in 1917. They lived in Mayfield and attended the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Little Flower. His wife died in 1941. About 20 years ago, he moved to the city's Belair-Edison neighborhood.

Early in retirement, Mr. Cicero traveled to Italy and Spain and went on trips to Ocean City with his family.

In later years, he enjoyed watching deer, rabbits and squirrels in the back yard of his daughter's home.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Catherine C. McConnell of Towson; five grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson.

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