Horton had a sharp wit, sharp scissors and a big heart
It's always sad when an old barber dies in a small town, as if a piece of that place will never be completely the same again.
It gets many people reminiscing about the past, and it perhaps reminds some of their own mortality.
Such is the case with Howell Horton, who passed away on Wednesday night following a courageous battle with lung cancer. Horton was tough. In his final few years, he would take his chemo on Thursdays so he'd feel strong enough to cut hair the following Wednesday. Despite the fact that the cancer was inoperable, according to the docs, Horton never stopped living his life.
To most people who knew him, he was either "Horton" or "Rabbit." He basically was only "Howell" to his family and to his fellow church members at Mosleyville Baptist on the southside.
For many around town, it's difficult to think about Horton without thinking about Bobby Mercer, who was Horton's longtime sidekick at Mercer's Barber Shop in downtown Milledgeville. They cut hair together for roughly 50 years, and their relationship was one part bickering brothers and one part old married couple. They'd argue about anything – the weather, current events, which Georgia College co-eds walking past the barber shop were the prettiest. Towards the end, Horton and Mercer basically had heard each other's stories, the ones they'd tell to customers, at least 500 times. While Mercer was telling a customer a story, Horton was two chairs down and rolling his eyes, and vice versa.
Horton grew up in Davisboro on the other side of Sandersville and first moved to Milledgeville to work at the old J.P Stephens textile mill. Around this time is when two of his friends set him up on a blind date with his future wife, Angelina, who was from Screven County originally and moved to Milledgeville to work at Central State Hospital. The couple eventually had three children – Kenny Horton, who now lives in Paulding County, Jeffrey Horton, who now lives in Statesboro, and Amy Horton Mosely, who lives here in Milledgeville.
Horton first got his barber's license in 1962 and began cutting hair with Mercer. Business was good for several years until "the damn hippy invasion," as Mercer used to say. American men began growing their hair out longer, and by 1970 Horton had to take a second job as a bus driver. He drove the old "Bus 17" for many many years. Horton was a dedicated Baldwin County School District employee, retiring after more than 40 years.
Back at the barber shop, the number of "GMC haircuts" that Horton gave over the years would be very difficult to calculate. Horton also was excellent with children, and he specialized in making toddlers feel reassured and comfortable during a very first haircut. The number of men from Milledgeville who "got their first haircut from Horton" also would be very difficult to calculate.
Horton had an incredibly quick and sharp wit, one of those people who seemingly had a comeback or a one-liner for everything.
Horton also had a really big heart. For many years, after one of his old faithful customers would pass away, Horton would go down to the funeral home and give them one more haircut and get their hair looking good, all in preparation for the visitation and funeral.
Horton's visitation is this Sunday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Williams Funeral Home, while the funeral is slated for 11 a.m. Monday, also at Williams. He was 85.