Longtime hairdresser Ray King retires after almost 54 years

by: OUTLOOK PHOTOS: MELISSA ADELE HASKIN - OUTLOOK PHOTO: MELISSA ADELE HASKIN Like many of Ray King's customers, Sherry Titland has been going to him for many years.

When Ray King decided to hang up his shears after nearly 54 years, the conversation went like this:

His wife, Paula King-Burke, said, “I’m going on a (three-month) trip. Are you coming?”

“Boy that’s quite a trip.” he responded, “Well, I’d have to retire.”

And that’s exactly what he decided to do. He says he’s looking forward to the trip they will someday take, which will include 23 stops over about 3,400 miles.

At 5:45 p.m. Tuesday July 31, King said goodbye to his last customer, a fellow hairdresser with short black hair.

“You want a hug or what?” asked King, reaching out to hug her. With that, she was out the sliding glass door around the back of King’s house and into the sunny day.

On July 31, King had only one appointment scheduled. By the end of the day he had taken care of 12 clients. His wife held a retirement party in the next room. Throughout the day people popped by to wish King well.

“It’s going to be sad. I love all these guys,” said King.

Not a barber

King said his father wanted him to be a barber.

“I didn’t like men that well, I wanted to be a hairdresser,” he said.

September 6, 1958, just months after graduating from Gresham Union High School, King started classes at Phagan’s Beauty School in downtown Portland. King’s instructor was Wilma Phagan who founded what we now know as Phagans School of Hair Design.

“She was very strong and very sweet,” said King, adding that she also had a “do what I tell you” attitude.

He remembers one particular moment when she explained to him you “swipe down once, pull and cut. My time for haircuts went from 45 to 25 minutes,” he said.

King said the most important tool is his $850 pair of scissors. He showed that with his scissors, the hair pops up, almost jumping away when he cuts. He has them sharpened every six months. He said that the problem with dull scissors is that they push against hair. He said they’re so old he can’t remember when he got them.


King graduated from beauty school on April 1, 1965, and he opened his own business and hired on six hairdressers. It was around this time he started cutting 16-year-old Bonnie Barker’s (later McCarty) hair. She had her hair cut almost every Saturday from then until last Saturday, July 28.

“He’s just a great guy,” said McCarty, “we can chat about everything.”

Over the years, McCarty followed him to five different locations, some in Portland, some in Gresham.

Right now, he is working out of a specially-outfitted room in his house.

“When you have to walk to work, it’s tough,” he joked.

Distance doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Lorin Lafleur drove 62 miles round trip to visit King. Lafleur tries to make it out about every two weeks. He said he rarely ever calls more than an hour in advance and that King always fits him in. King was the very first person to cut Lafleur’s hair. Sometimes he brings his son, Will, 7, who also received his first haircut from King.

And when people can’t make it to King, he goes to them.

King said it’s challenging to run a home hairdressing business, “you have to have a huge clientele,” he said.

On an average day King would have about 20 customers. He decided to work less over the last few years, working with about 10 people a day.

Initially, he worked mostly with women. He said he preferred to socialize with them. He didn’t really want to talk about sports or cars with men. Now, his clients are a mix of men, women and children.

One might say he has a knack for kids. When Will Lafleur climbed up into the seat, King asked the boy, “Did you want a shave sir?” Will quietly giggled and then giggled more when King asked “Do you want to keep this?” tapping his ear.

King’s granddaughter, 7-year-old Erin Whitehill, bumbles around the room intermittently, watching and asking if she can help.

She knows grandpa’s routine, spinning on his stool when he’s not in it. As she wanders around asking questions he answers, “yes, honey.”

Last Day

On his last day, King shook hands and hugged people all day. Almost every time someone would try to leave, he’d hand them a bottle of something to take — shampoo, conditioner, styling gel.

“I’m going to miss him,” said Sherry Titland, who has been going to King for about five years. She said that she would try out the hairdresser King is referring everyone to: Don Hawes at Scandia Beauty Salon. Hawes has a whole box of clients waiting for him, King has 3,400 miles of road and a wife.

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