“People come and go through these offices and the Hill,” Baugher said. But the barbers “are the ones that have the staying power.”
Mason’s first day on the job was May 3, 1983, which made Friday his 30th anniversary. It was supposed to be the perfect moment for a goodbye celebration. But one of Mason’s twin daughters, Faye, died unexpectedly Wednesday after being hospitalized Sunday with pneumonia. When his wife called him with the news of Faye’s death, Mason kept driving toward Capitol Hill and showed up for work in Room B323 — just as he always had.
“I felt I’d be better around people, you know, being here where I’m used to being,” said Mason, who rose from a life of labor on a Virginia peanut farm to a job that last year had him sharing an early Father’s Day soul food lunch with President Obama.
Members of Congress and their staffs have been stepping into the Washington institution for decades. For $15, they can drop by between votes and within earshot of the buzzing House clock. The walls are filled with signed power portraits. And the men who run the place nurture a family feel, so they’ve all been touched by the death of Mason’s daughter, who was in her late 50s.
“We got to help him through,” said Keith Miller, a friend and minister who operates video cameras for the House and who for years has shared Bible verses and life stories with Mason in the shop.
Mason came from a family of barbers. His brother Curlie, who had a shop in Baltimore, taught him the craft. Mason opened a shop on H Street NE in the early 1960s for $500.
When the riots hit, the shop wasn’t physically damaged. But things were changing. After James Brown’s “Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” people no longer wanted the same old cut, and business tanked. Mason, ever entrepreneurial, started offering alternatives, including “blowouts” meant to bulk things up rather than cut them down.
By the early 1980s, after business had largely returned, a friend told him that a barbershop on Capitol Hill was looking for a replacement. Mason took the job, and he would come by the old shop at nights.
“I was used to hard work,” Mason said. “I came off the farm, working for nothing. I was glad to work and get paid.”
Life behind the congressional barber’s chair was an education. When Mason started, “I knew very little about cutting white hair,” he said. His customers were about 75 percent white then, he said, although now it’s about 50-50.