And Now You Know: Tom Cockrell, the Barber who cared

Published 10:11 am Monday, June 18, 2018

By Mike Louviere

When Tom Cockrell died on January 29, 1990, Orange lost one of its greatest humanitarians.

Cockrell was one of the host of barbers who had small neighborhood shops in Orange. He had a small shop in the 200 block of Green Avenue. His shop was unique because he had a small patch of greens growing next to it. He raised the greens to give away. He had a nice vegetable garden at his home and gave most of that produce away also.

In his lifetime, it is possible he gave as many free haircuts and shaves as those he got paid for.

Cockrell tired to help those who were shut in, in nursing homes, in hospitals, and often attempted to give comfort to those who had a death in their family whether he knew the family or not.

To him, they were all simply people in need, and he wanted to help. If a bit of produce or a haircut and or shave would help, he was happy to help in those ways.

Cockrell was born as the 11th child in a family that lived in Shelby County in 1913. He grew up in Joaquin, working on the family farm.

In high school, boxing was his favorite sport, but at a young age, his favorite thing to do was give someone a haircut. At the age of 12, he bought a pair of Sears and Roebuck hair clippers and began to practice on anyone who would let him give them a haircut.

At that time, no license was required to be a barber.

In 1929, the law was passed that required barbers to be licensed. He had to quit charging for haircuts to be legal but continued to give haircuts for free.

In 1930, he left the family farm to go to Fort Worth to attend barber school. He only had $133 in his pocket when he got there, tuition for the six-month barber course cost $125. He found a rooming house and paid $5 for one-week room and board. That only left him $3 for incidentals.

By the time the second weeks room and board was due, he had talked the instructor at the barber school to let him move up to the first chair.

The first chair operated the cash register and was paid a commission on all the haircuts given by the students. He managed to stall his landlord for a few days so that he could earn enough money to pay room and board and have some left over for incidentals.

After he completed school, he had to work under a licensed barber for 18 months before he could take the test for a full license.

He had married Odene, a girl from a neighboring farm, and in 1942 they came to Orange during the war boom.

He worked as a steam operator on the graveyard shift in a shipyard, when he got off at 7 a.m. he went to the Holland Hotel and worked all day cutting hair in the hotel barbershop.

After the war ended, he eventually opened his own shop on Green Avenue. He was very successful because of his skill as a barber and his personality.

The shop had three chairs, but only two barbers.

He once said, “the chairs are always full because someone is in the ‘other chair’ watching TV.”

His three children went into the business. Fletcher operated Fletcher’s Hairdressers on Burton Street in Orange. Tommy became a barber and owned a shop in Round Rock. His daughter, Robbie Crump, became a hair stylist in Houston.

Fletcher and Tommy earned money in high school shining shoes in their dad’s, shop. Cockrell also helped a lot of other boys over the years by allowing them to shine shoes in his shop.

In 1980, the Orange Kiwanis Club recognized him as “The Layman of the Year” for his service to humanity.

Cockrell was a man that cared deeply for those that needed a little comfort in their lives. He was also modest.

“I’m not looking for glory. If I feel I’ve done some good for my fellow man—that’s good enough for me,” he said.

“And now you know”