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Wille E. Brennon -Englewood barber, Dead at 72, father figure to many

Posted by TSUE on July 31, 2008

Willie E. Brennon gave more than good trims. The Englewood barber was both a wellspring of information and a mentor to young African-American men.

FILE PHOTO
Willie Brennon was a barber since 1962. Young men came to the shop from Englewood, Teaneck, Hackensack and all over “because Willie was such a special person.”

Recognizing his indispensability, the Urban League for Bergen County gave Mr. Brennon its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. The Legislature followed up with a proclamation noting Mr. Brennon’s “depth of knowledge and breadth of experience.”
“He had the pulse of the community,” said former Assemblyman Arnold Brown of Englewood.

Mr. Brennon, who ran his West Palisade Avenue barbershop for 46 years, died Thursday. He was 72. The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Carol.

Mr. Brennon was proud of the shop’s status as community hub and information clearinghouse. Last year, the shop played host to gatherings spreading the word about the importance of prostate cancer screening. “40 plus yrs. of community service,” the front window proclaims.

Mr. Brennon played the role of conversation catalyst, human Rolodex — whether you needed the name of a lawyer or a tire dealer, he was the go-to guy — and surrogate father. Countless customers, especially the young, sought his advice.

“Some of them say to me, ‘Mr. Brennon, I wish I could talk to my mother and father the way I can talk to you,’ ” he once told The Record. “ ‘You got to go to school.’ I always emphasize that.”

Brown, the first African-American from Bergen County to serve in the Legislature, said Mr. Brennon’s shop “was the central meeting place for many African-American males.

“And not just from Englewood,” he added. “From Teaneck. From Hackensack. They came from all over, because Willie was such a special person.”

One fan, 98.7 Kiss FM morning DJ Jeff Foxx, aired a tribute to the barber today.

Willie Brennon was born in Cassatt, S.C., and came to New Jersey as a teenager. He went to barbering school and got a job cutting hair in Hackensack.

He opened his shop at 303 West Palisade Ave. in 1962. Later, he moved a couple of doors down to No. 307.

As a kid, Kal Cauthen got haircuts from Mr. Brennon. “When I went away to college, I wanted to cut hair to make some money, and Mr. B sent me my first pair of clippers,” he said.

Cauthen worked off and on for Mr. Brennon — “more on than off” — for 20 years while pursuing acting. When Cauthen followed his dreams to California, “Mr. B told me, ‘Don’t worry about what anyone says; just be diligent and work hard.’ ”

Today, the 46-year-old Cauthen lives in Atlanta, still cuts hair and stars in a cable TV dramatic series, “Atlanta Homicide.”

“Mr B celebrated me all the time,” Cauthen said. “He embraced everyone, no matter what, and saw the good in everyone.”

Mr. Brennon, a Hackensack resident, had a hip replacement in December. He returned to the shop, then broke his femur.
In March, he was last at his barber chair, the one next to the cash register and closest to the posters of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

In addition to his wife of 31 years, Mr. Brennon is survived by daughter Lisa Flowers of Arnoldsville, Ga.; stepsons Sean Christmas of Virginia Beach, Va., Arnold Christmas Jr. of Hackensack and Gary Christmas of New York City; his former wife, Nancy Rainey of Pennsylvania; a brother, and eight grandchildren. A son, Gregory Brennon, died in 1982.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, a horse-drawn carriage bearing Mr. Brennon’s casket will leave Englewood’s Eternity Funeral Services for the barbershop. After a brief service, the casket will be transferred to a hearse for the trip to George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus.

“I felt he deserved that,” Mr. Brennon’s wife said of the carriage ride. “He was such a good person. This is what I wanted him to have.”

E-mail: levin@northjersey.com

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