The world lost a legend last week. Bobby Banks, a heroic educator, and barber in Augusta, GA, died at the age of 87. I’m a little down about this and not sure how to begin, so I’ll just freestyle it.
Mr. Banks was formerly my barber, the greatest I’ve ever known, and a very good friend. He started cutting hair in another age while in the US Navy. He taught my parents in high school. Rather, he taught my Mother and tolerated Daddy. He was the principal at both my junior high and high schools, back when both were concerned with education. As luck wouldn’t have it, he skated ahead of me by a year or two. I never had the privilege of getting in trouble with him.
We had long talks about education. I know much about his time in the schools and his retirement. We spoke frankly about the changes over the years. He was the kind of man the public schools desperately need today (or needed 25 years ago) but which they simply will not have anymore. He was happier as a barber anyway.
He was fantastic with the blades – one of several business ventures he maintained. He was the real deal: providing manly cuts with razor-close precision, unafraid to perform a little impromptu surgery the way they did 200 years ago – usually without consulting the patient first. “Did that sting?”
I know tons of people who loved him in his academic role. The stories about his demanding, caring, off-beat, and semi-scofflaw ways are legion and legend.
“Where do you think y’all are going?”
“To Burger King, Mr. Banks. We can’t stand school today.”
‘Me either. Let’s go.”
He bent rules to do the right thing.
“You boys will be sorry you broke those windows.”
“We are sorry, Mr.—“
“The cops are coming! Shut up and get in my trunk!”
He was too good, especially for what’s become of the local ed scene. Back then, things, scores included, looked up, not down.
I got to know him in ways many students did not. He cut my hair before my wedding. He’d humor my daughter’s instructions and then cut my hair the way he always did. When Daddy was sick and dying and couldn’t leave the house, Mr. Banks made a house call – I know of no other barber who does or did. The connection was multi-generational. He proudly told me that his father and my grandfather used to raise and fight gamecocks together (back when America was a free country). He’s the only person I’ve ever lent my vintage cockfighting manuals to, the only one who was interested. The only one who, or one of few, who knew what Grit ‘n Steel was. He’s the only other man I ever knew who had one of Ethan Allen’s rare Bicentennial wall rugs – his copy hung in the shop at Daniel Village.
They don’t make them like they used to and I’m not sure they ever made another like him. All good things and people come to an end, even the very best. My condolences to his wife, family, friends, co-workers, and community left pooer by his passing, though richer for the knowing.
Farewell. Rest in Peace.