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After 42 years, longtime barber has no plans to quit

Richard Roe cuts the hair of a customer Feb. 5 at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Barber Shop. Meeting new people and being around the Air Force has kept him coming back to work for more than four decades, he says. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alexandria Fulton)

Richard Roe cuts the hair of a customer Feb. 5 at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Barber Shop. Meeting new people and being around the Air Force has kept him coming back to work for more than four decades, he says. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alexandria Fulton)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- At 83 and in the same job for more than four decades, Richard Roe says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Roe has been working at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Barber Shop since Dec. 19, 1978, and does not plan to leave any time soon.

“I’ll work here for as long as I can,” he said. “I want to be here until the day I die.”

Roe started out his time with the Air Force back in 1955 when he enlisted for four years. He worked in the petroleum, oil and lubricants career field at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

After his active-duty stint, Roe landed a job at National Welding in Ohio. He would go on to become the company’s first African American welder.  

By age 31, Roe realized he wanted to do something he really loved. He enjoys being around and meeting new people from all over. So he enrolled at Dayton Barber College, where he would later receive his license.

Roe then opened up his own shop called Unique Barber, which he operated for 53 years.

Even with his own shop, he still wanted to be around the Air Force atmosphere, which led him to the WPAFB Barber Shop.

“I have always enjoyed the Air Force,” he said. “That is why I have stayed here for so long.”

Roe said he loves that his job allows him to connect with people, give them advice and minister to them.

“You have to find something you love and then do it with love,” he added. “I enjoy talking to people from around the world, and this is like my platform that allows me to minister to those that come in.

“A lot of guys come in here and will wait for me because they want some kind of advice or help with something they are going through.”

Not only do his customers admire him, but he is respected by co-workers as well.

Vickie Davis, who has worked with Roe for 14 years, says she’s benefited greatly from him.

“Working with him has been very enlightening; he’s a very knowledgeable man,” she said. “I have learned so much from him, like being a better barber.

“He is such a kind-hearted man, and everyone just seems to love him. I believe this is why all of his customers keep coming back.”

Roe said he’s been here for so long that he gets to watch the Airmen he cuts hair for “grow up.”

“I have men come in as a captain and come back as a colonel years later and ask, ‘You’re still here?’ he says. “And I tell them, ‘Where else am I supposed to go?’”

Over the years, Roe has seen many people come and go through the shop, whether it be service members or co-workers. But it’s the people he gets to talk and interact with who keep him coming back to work every day.

He even recalls a friendly wager from a few years back.

“My old boss and one of my old co-workers made a bet on who could stay here until they were 85,” he said. “Everyone who was here when I got here is gone. I am the only one who has lasted. When my boss left, he owed me a pair of his clippers for losing the bet.”

Familiarity is another thing that keeps him coming back to work at Wright-Patt, he says.

“Barbers come and go, but I have stayed here the whole time,” he said. “I have actually been working in the same chair the whole time, never moved stations.”

Roe is also the only master barber in the Wright-Patterson AFB shop.

During his time at Dayton Barber College, he completed 1,800 hours of schooling to earn his barber’s license. Becoming a master barber took a little more work.

Roe had to complete an 18-month apprenticeship under a master barber before he could sit for a review board that would award it to him.

Becoming a master barber allowed Roe to open up his own shop. Unfortunately, he had to close it down recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Roe enjoys being able to get up and go to work at WPAFB. In the end, he found the one thing he loves.

“Coming to work for me is just kind of like therapy,” he said. “It is something I love and I will continue to come for as long as I can.”