Libery hairstylist has been making the cut for 64 years

August 18, 2003|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

Ruth Leigh has never thought much about retiring, and she rarely takes a vacation from her business on Wallace Wilkinson Boulevard. She thinks she has enough vacation time built up to take a few days off.

"I wish I had a penny for every pound of hair that I have cut. I'd take a vacation," she said, jokingly, as she cut the hair of one of her customers at Rulou Hair Styles. She keeps the conversation going by joking with her customers.

"Feeling light-headed after getting that long hair cut?" she asked customer Flona Phelps who stopped by for a cut and perm. Phelps was getting ready for a family reunion and made her annual stop for a new hairdo by Leigh.

"If I get you wet, I'll dry you off. You won't rust," said Leigh, jokingly, as she worked on Phelps' hair.


The 82-year-old Leigh has had hundreds of customers in her 64-year career as a hairstylist. She began working in 1939 after 18 months of training at Royal Beauty College in Indiana.

After training, she found her way back home to operate one of the two shops in town. She was an apprentice under barber Lucien Lawson for a year before striking out on her own.

That was in 1939 and now there are more than 15 hairstylists in town, but she does not consider them competition: She said they all work together.

She had been in several locations around town, before moving to the bypass in 1986 where she works alongside daughter-in-law Alma Leigh, who has been with the shop for 20 years, and Jackie Woodrum, who does manicures and operates a tanning booth.

Although, it's been a while since she got her formal training, Leigh keeps up with the current styles through trade magazines and continuing education, which is mandatory to keep her license.

"I don't learn that much but I have to keep up with everything," said Leigh. She also does her own hair with the exception of cutting it.

She sells lots of hair-care products and advises her customers not to wash their hair every day to keep it healthy. She also said the secret to keeping hair nice is eating correctly.

Leigh likes to keep her customers happy and apparently does so.

"She's kept me coming all these years," said Marcia Godby, who has been coming to the shop for more than 40 years. "It was a good setup while I was working. I just dropped by after work," said Godby.

She said her hair doesn't always do what it is supposed to and Leigh always makes her look good.

In between cuts and perms, Leigh takes care of Merle Norman cosmetics customers. She has had the franchise for 28 years.

Leigh also is a masseuse.

"I have no time for that," she said. "It takes all my time do to this (hair) but maybe in the next 20 years I might do that," she said.

In the meantime, she "talks her customers out of feeling bad and complaining."

Leigh has always been blessed with good health but has had to deal with the loss a child in infancy and her husband, Hiram, whom she married in 1943. She said having a good attitude gets her through difficult times. She also has two sons, Roger and Vance, who live nearby.

Leigh cuts the hair of the "young ones as soon as they can sit up." If someone is unable to get to the shop, she goes to their house and styles their hair.

But she does not repeat gossip. A sign on the wall states: "I never repeat gossip, so listen carefully."

While the beauticians work on hair, Woodrum sits in front of a window overlooking the bypass as she does manicures and fiberglass nails. A trained hairdresser, she began doing nails at Rulou's two years ago.

Customer Crystal Goode of Liberty used to bite her nails, then began coming to Woodrum for prettier nails.

"I stopped that habit when I started having my nails done."

"I really enjoy working here," said Woodrum. "She (Leigh) is inspirational to me and always pleasant. It's fun to come to work."

As a reminder of the early days when doing hair was more complicated, Leigh has one of her first permanent wave machines that used heat to curl hair.

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