‘He’s hanging in Heaven’

By Lawrence Cosentino

Regulars laugh and grieve at the loss of barber Jerry Doyle

Early Saturday afternoon, a shy but mischievous-looking lad walked into Jerry’s Hairport on Lansing’s north side sporting a fedora. He sat down and waited for a haircut.

“Look out, it’s Charlie Boy,” shop owner Pat Zopf called out. Three barbers were busy, customers were waiting and more regulars than usual were milling around.

At 16, Charlie Rose is a faithful regular at Jerry’s, even though he still takes a ribbing for coming to the shop five years ago in a shirt that read “Surrender the Booty.”

“That was wrong on so many levels,” Zopf said, relishing the chance to bring it up again. Everyone in the shop looked thirsty for a laugh.

The day’s topic of conversation was Jerry Doyle, who founded Jerry’s Hairport in 1959, ran it for over 50 years and sold it to Zopf last year. Doyle stayed on, working two days a week, until heart trouble sidelined him at the end of last year.

Rose asked after Doyle’s health, dreading the reply.

“He’s hanging in Heaven, buddy,” Zopf told him. “About 8 or 9 o’clock Jan. 1.” Doyle was 78.

At that moment, Linda Rose, Charlie’s grandmother and a longtime friend of Doyle’s, walked in the door. Shaken, she muttered a few words, turned around and went back to her car.

Charlie Boy looked at the floor. He’d had every haircut in his life at Jerry’s, except for two elsewhere he didn’t like.

“We lost a good friend that day,” he said solemnly.

“You better go out there and check on your grandma,” Zopf told him. “Looks like she’s not doing too good.”

Among the regulars who gathered at Jerry’s Saturday was Bob Ward, Doyle’s youngest customer ever, at three weeks old. That was in September 1959, the week Jerry’s Hairport opened. “I had a big wad sticking up,” Ward said. He still has the wad, saved in a scrapbook.

Over the years, Ward spent a lot of time with Doyle, hanging out at the shop, fishing and going to hockey games.

“He never really fished,” Zopf said. “He had a cigarette and a beer and watched us.”

In spite of all the non-effort, Doyle landed a five-and-a-half-pound bass last summer. The line and the net were in a hopeless tangle by the time he heaved the fish into the boat.

“It was a fiasco,” Zopf said. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He just wanted to watch us have fun.”

“He never had a hobby,” Ward said. “The shop was his hobby.”

Doyle only golfed —or rather, participated in a golf outing — once in his life, when the now-defunct Lansing Barber Association took a gang of Lansing barbers to an outing at Hawk Hollow. Doyle simply threw a cooler of beer on the back of the cart, where the clubs usually go, and drove from hole to hole, schmoozing and criticizing the players.

“That man knew more people than anybody,” Ward said. “He was the perfect person to run a barbershop,” Zopf said. Doyle grew up in Lansing and never did anything else.

“His dad told him to be a priest or a barber, and he wasn’t going to be a priest,” Zopf said. On the shop’s 50th anniversary in 2009, Doyle received proclamations from U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Doyle was proud to get two Michigan governors, John Swain son
and George Romney, into the shop.

When he was finished with Romney, Doyle spun the Republican around to face a picture of Swainson, a Democrat, having his hair cut in the same chair.

Ward sat in a vacant barber chair and took half a swivel. “It takes a special person to communicate with everybody, get on good terms with them, have them come back,” he philosophized. “Hell, my kids come here.”

“He just had a way with people,” Zopf said. “Troubled kids would come in here just to talk with him.”

But Doyle was no pushover. Everybody’s favorite Jerry Doyle story runs as follows. On an extra hectic day, a hyperactive 5-year-old wriggled out of Doyle’s chair, climbed on the counter and started playing with the cash register. Doyle grabbed him by the ear and whisked him out the door, where his grandmother was waiting in the car. The kid turned around, came back inside the shop, walked up to Doyle and said, “Fuck you, Jerry.”

“Fuck you, too,” Doyle shot back.

Zopf and the regulars kept the stories flowing Saturday until closing time. Another Charlie, surname Street, started coming to the shop at the ripe old age of 3, the year it opened.

“My dad came here, I come here, my boy came here,” Street said. “It was always an experience. You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth.”

“One of my favorites …” Zopf began. “Is this the captain story?” somebody asked.

In a story that stuck to Doyle for decades — and, for the record, one he always denied — a customer once spotted him at the nowdefunct Red Rail Bar in Lansing. “Hey, it’s Jerry the barber,” the man cried, at which point Doyle allegedly turned to the woman next to him at the bar and said, “OK, I’m not an airplane pilot.”

True or not, the barbershop crew called Doyle “Captain” for years.