On the cutting edge

By Steve Irvine | Living 50 Plus

DECATUR — At the age of 78, J. Hugh Looney still works 10-hour days styling hair and goes snow skiing on premier slopes in the western United States. He also finds time to garden and repair old sports cars and lawn mowers.

The Morgan County native has been a Decatur fixture in the hair styling business for most of his adult life. Looney’s salon — JHL & Associates Professional Haircare — has been located on Sandlin Road for the past 27 years. Prior to that, his business shared a location just off Sixth Avenue with a pair of dentists.

“This is a profession that takes a lot of hours. A 10-hour day is nothing,” Looney said.

Yet he still finds plenty of ways to fill the other hours of the day. Snow skiing has been a passion for nearly 50 years and he also calls himself a “gardener and a pretty decent mechanic.”

His life in the hair styling business began soon after his graduation from Tanner High School in the spring of 1961. He took courses at Calhoun Community College — which was known as Tennessee Valley Vocational School at the time — while in high school. A month after high school graduation, he completed barber school classes.

The education, however, was just beginning.

“I went to school all over the country,” Looney said. “I went to barber school — we were still in flat tops and that kind of stuff. When I moved up to being a stylist, there weren’t a lot of people to teach (you).”

For Looney, his progression from being a barber to a hair stylist was about more than hair.

“You look at someone and you to talk to them,” Looney said. “You look at their head shape, what their lifestyle is like and put that together. It’s basically knowing what they like. You learn the basic different personalities.

“It’s a lot of psychology and sociology and what makes people happy. Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp. It’s just as clear as it can be. You have to be able to sell what they’re looking for, not what you’re looking for.”

His passion for skiing didn’t necessarily begin with a family trip to the northeast Alabama slopes at Mentone about 47

years ago. However, it didn’t take that long for the passion to set in.

Skiing became more than just a hobby “when I got to where I could ski a little bit more and started skiing two, three, four times a year,” he said. “You get better at it. You don’t use the map anymore to see where you ski. You just go skiing where you want to. Then it becomes a passion, because you can do it and enjoy it. You don’t have to ask yourself, ‘Can I do this or do that?’”

He’s skied all over the country but prefers the western U.S. slopes. He has a timeshare in Tahoe, Calif. — his favorite spot — and also enjoys the Utah slopes.

“When I went out West, the snow was just so much softer and there are so many more opportunities to enjoy,” Looney said.

Over the past five or six years, he began competing in NASTAR racing events. However, it’s not the competition which drives him to the slopes three or four times per year. It’s more about the relationships he’s made and the freedom of the slopes.

“The adrenaline is just running,” Looney said. “You enjoy yourself out there. You go down the mountain, take a little break the middle of the day. I’m not trying to show out, I’m just enjoying myself.”

So how many more years will that enjoyment last?

“The better you ski, the less strenuous it is on your body,” Looney said. “As long as I’m strong enough and have enough time, I think I’ll ski. I’ve thought about it. Last year, at Park City (Utah), a man was skiing on his 100th birthday.”