Morrison C. Hansborough -- Washington native, Army veteran, mellow raconteur, jazz lover, congressional barber -- did not, in truth, have a chance of being vice president of the United States.
But for a few fleeting moments in 1976, Hansborough achieved some notoriety, as happened at odd moments throughout his life. Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy (D-Minn.), in one of his quixotic bids for the Oval Office, recruited Hansborough as a vice presidential stand-in on the D.C. ballot.
The politician and the barber had known each other since McCarthy served in the House and sat for the occasional trim.
They had an easy rapport. Hansborough once jested that McCarthy should sue the New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act to view his advance obituary. The barber did campaign work for the senator in black neighborhoods.
When McCarthy ran for president as an independent in 1976, he asked Hansborough to be on the D.C. ballot. "He worked on Capitol Hill, he was a real Democrat and a friend of mine," McCarthy said. "There must have been something funny in the law that you needed a vice president to be on the ballot."
So far as can be determined, Hansborough made only one political promise. He said he would abolish the office of the vice president "the morning I win it."
He was blase about power because he had been so close to it so long. Until retiring in 1972, he had spent more than 20 years sheering, sculpting and smoothing the heads of the heads of the House. Speakers Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.) and John W. McCormack (D-Mass.) were customers, for 75 cents a scalp.
In the barbershop, Hansborough loved gabbing about political insights and sports -- he had Washington Redskins tickets since the team moved from Boston in 1937 -- but had little tolerance for speechmaking. He found ways to end barbershop filibusters.
"He'd pull his barber's razor out of an inside pocket and sort of look at it and put it back in his pocket," McCarthy said. "It was psychological pressure if he didn't like what they were saying."
Politicians were not the sort of potentates who impressed Hansborough, a bearded, beret-wearing flagpole of a man. He preferred counts and dukes, Basie and Ellington.
Ellington once nicknamed Hansborough "Diminuendo" because of the barber's constant requests at concerts to play his hollering masterwork "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue."
Hansborough regularly attended jazz festivals at Newport, R.I., and Monterey, Calif., and sometimes startled musicians with his ubiquitous presence.
"This guy follows me around!" drummer Max Roach once told The Washington Post about Hansborough.
Cutting hair and listening to jazz were early interests of Morrison Chancellor Hansborough, born Feb. 7, 1923.
His father, who held odd jobs, had moved with his family to rural Remington, Va., where he took up farming. Hansborough's mother died when he was 13. He worked as a barber to support the family, which included four siblings.
He began working at the Capitol about 1950 and made a habit of observing leaders. He told a reporter that the gait of a politician meant a lot at reelection time: "If he walks real fast, that always means he's in a real battle. If he walks along real casual like, that means he's got it made."
He said Robert F. Kennedy, whom he knew as a young committee counsel, was intense and rarely laughed in his company. He could tell Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) was nearing because of his habit of whistling. He noted that House members began to use hair spray in the late 1960s.
He was known to ask lawmakers to place articles about jazz in the Congressional Record.
Increasingly, Hansborough lived for his outside pleasures. After the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, he seldom missed one.
"When Newport used to last only four days, I'd come back here so high -- and I don't mean on smoke or liquor -- that I'd have to go to New York to hear some more music," he once said.
He held court in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall, smoking his thick stogie. Some did not appreciate his style, notably Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio), chairman of Committee on House Administration.
"Hansborough was smoking this big cigar, and Congressman Hays asked him to put it down," said Joe Quattrone, a 34-year veteran who now manages the shop. "He said, 'I like to smoke my cigar when I'm under pressure.' "
That tiff -- and a knee operation -- precipitated the end of his barbershop career. Still, his former colleagues kept seeing him everywhere -- football games, parties, funerals.
And in Time magazine. The publication pictured him aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1974 when the ship lay stranded south-southwest of Bermuda as a leaking fuel line made the three boilers inoperable. For days, the boat became a swinging party of music and booze.
Hansborough never married, although he asked his longtime friend Arminta Watkins a few years ago. She, twice divorced, turned him down. They remained close, going to Blues Alley and other clubs. She continued to care for him, up through his death Sept. 7 of arteriosclerosis. He was 81.
In the end, he had but one desire, Watkins said: "To turn on his jazz radio station and get his jazz. That was fulfilling to him."