Remembering Gene, local barbershop owner, prankster

Publish date: June 17, 2013

Ballard News-Tribune

If you’ve ever walked down Northwest 65th Street and tried (but failed) to pick up a Super Glued quarter from the sidewalk, you’ve been prey to one of Gene’s practical jokes.

Owner of the Sunset Hill Barbershop, Marion Eugene “Gene” George passed away on April 30. He was 74.

After opening his shop in Ballard in 1981, Gene quickly became known for passing out Pup-Peronis to dogs, handing out gumballs to children and, most notably, dealing out pranks to anyone who would fall for them.

“Everyone had a story about Gene. … Always a prankster, always joking around,” said Billy Higgins, one of Gene’s long-time customers. “He always had a story to tell.”

Higgins, now 22, had gotten his hair cut by Gene since he was only four years old. As a college student, he was never charged once.

When Higgins was off in Spokane attending Gonzaga University, he would sometimes lose touch with his hometown. But the minute he returned to the barbershop, Gene would fill him in on what he had missed.

“When you went to him to get a haircut, you weren’t just getting a haircut,” Higgins said. “You were getting the pleasure of his company for however long it took. He always made it totally worth it.”

Gene had looked forward to celebrating Halloween every year, and his barbershop always drew the biggest trick-or-treating crowd. Gene’s secret was handing out full-size candy bars to the children, while offering a variety of multi-flavored Jell-O shots to the adults.

“My dad loved life. He loved children and he loved dogs,” said Connie Smith, Gene’s only daughter.

Gene married his late wife, Gail Rogers in 1958. They had Connie in 1962, who Gene adored and who was said to be the pride and joy of his life. That is, until Connie’s son, Chase, came into the picture.

“Everyone in the community knew,” Higgins said. “(Gene) always had something to say about what his grandson was doing.”

Gene attended countless of Chase’s wrestling tournaments. It was said that every time he looked at Chase, he would get that all-too-well-known ear-to-ear grin.

Donna Williams had worked by Gene’s side for 20 years. She had met him in the early ‘90s when she managed the 7-Eleven by the Ballard Locks. Gene would come in every morning and buy Lottery tickets and, eventually, they became good friends.

When Williams was considering a career change, Gene convinced her to attend barber training. In 1994, she joined Gene at the barbershop.

“He loved people,” Williams said. “He would never have wanted to be anything else but a barber.”

Though she is the current owner of Sunset Hill Barbershop, Williams said she doesn’t feel blessed to take in such good fortune. Rather, she sees it as a sign to continue on Gene’s legacy for the community and others around her.

“Sometimes in life, things happen and maybe not for you,” she said. “This barbershop means a lot to a lot of people. He’s kind of an end of an era. To me, I feel like it’s still Gene’s shop. It will never feel like it’s mine, but I feel honored that I am able to try and stand in his shoes.”

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