Lenny Gilleo, the official barber at the Federal Reserve Board who cut the hair and trimmed the beards of the chiefs of U.S. monetary policies for 40 years and called himself the “Hairman of the Board,” died Feb. 13 at his home in Falls Church, Va. He was 71.
The cause was cancer, said a son, Jeffrey Gilleo.
As the Fed’s barber — he rented the space from the government — Mr. Gilleo snipped and styled the hair of Fed chairmen Arthur Burns, Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke but not Janet L. Yellen. “My monetary policy,” Mr. Gilleo’s business cards joked, “is greatly affected by your growth rate.”
He was ever mindful of the ancient dictum that the barber above all others must have the trust and confidence of influential and powerful clients because, in the performance of his routine service, the barber holds a razor to their throats.
“Being in my chair is just like going to a confessional,” Mr. Gilleo told The Washington Post in 2004. He kept mum to even his closest family anything he might have overheard from his clients, whose every phrase or comment was closely watched and might send world money markets soaring into the stratosphere or plunging to a point of collapse. “I never repeat a word I hear in chair,” he said. “I would never tell anybody.” His conversations with Greenspan and Bernanke, for example, were often limited to baseball.
Leonard Vincent Gilleo was born in Boston on April 4, 1947, and grew up in the Washington area. His mother was in and out of hospitals, and his father was absent. For a decade, he lived in an orphanage run by a Baptist church in Bethesda, Md.
In 1963, Mr. Gilleo graduated from a barber academy in Alexandria, Va. He was subsequently a backup barber at the White House and held tonsorial stints at the Pentagon, the State Department, Dulles International Airport and several local shops, including a women’s hair salon, which he did not like.
“You know, it’s blue hair on Thursday,” he complained to The Post. At the Pentagon he grew tired of “bowing and scraping” before generals.
He arrived at the Fed in 1978, when haircuts were $3.50. The price would later rise to $10. In recent years Mr. Gilleo had no set fee. Customers paid whatever they chose. Most paid more than $10, some less. Whatever they could afford. The record, Jeff Gilleo said, was $500 one Christmas.
Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Vivian Schmidt Gilleo of Falls Church; four children, Don Gilleo of Herndon, Va., Mark Gilleo of Vienna, Va., Jessica Gilleo-Kelly of Reston, Va., and Jeffrey Gilleo of Silver Spring, Md.; and 12 grandchildren.
In his 40 years at the Fed, Mr. Gilleo built up a such a roster of regulars that first timers were accepted only with references from established customers, a bit like seeking membership in an exclusive club. “No reference, no cut,” Mr. Gilleo said.
As the barber to public figures, Mr. Gilleo was, of necessity, sensitive to their public images.
“Everybody watches the chairman on TV when he appears before the Senate,” he told The Post. “And if one little hair sticks up, my buddies call me up and say, ‘Did you do that?’ ”