UPDATE: A memorial service for Russ Kerr will be held on July 27 at 1 p.m. at the Mount Tam United Methodist Church at 410 Sycamore Ave. at Camino Alto.
Mill Valley barber Russ Kerr, the man who kept customers coming back to his Locust Ave. shop for a good cut and even better stories for nearly more than four decades, died at his Novato home on July 9 after a long illness. He was 82.
Louise Kerr, his wife of 48 years, said that the renowned, colorful barber had been continuing to enjoy his newfound retirement – he sold his Locust Ave. shop, a fixture in Mill Valley since 1970, in early 2012 – to do what he loved most: hike, garden and, most of all, take her square dancing with the Buzzin' Boots square dance club in Novato and with the Sebastopol Spinners. But a battle with an undisclosed illness turned into a lung infection, which sent him to Kaiser Permanente hospital in Terra Linda for a few days.
“It came pretty rapidly,” Louise Kerr said of her husband’s poor health. “It’s really just so new to me at this point. Occasionally it hits me, but I still haven’t been able to process it all.”
Russ Kerr’s death has spread to business owners around the barber shop, which is now owned by 32-year-old Yianni Spiros Markatos, who bought the shop from him last year.
Batel Libes, owner of Beads of Marin on 8 Locust Ave., said she would see Kerr from time to time when he came by her shop. If she didn’t see him for a couple of weeks, she just thought he was off from work or on vacation. She said the news of Kerr’s death caught many of the nearby merchants off guard.
“All of us here on this bock are in shock,” Libes said. “Most likely every child from Mill Valley got their first haircut from Russ. He was an icon.”
Kerr was born and raised in North Loop, Nebraska, moving to the Bay Area in the late 1950s and eventually going to beauty school in San Francisco. He met Louise through a friend who went to the same school, and the couple married in 1965.
Kerr managed a barber shop in the city’s financial district for 10 years, with the couple living in El Cerrito. Kerr bought the Locust Ave. shop in November 1970 from a guy named Bill Bowen, Louise Kerr said, and the couple moved to Novato, where they lived ever since. They have a daughter, Andrea Shaw, who lives in Truckee.
Louise Kerr said that her husband’s decision to retire and sell the shop was a long time coming.
“I’d been talking about it for a long time,” she said with a laugh. “He just so loved the people there in Mill Valley – he really loved his customers,” Kerr said.
Kerr said information about a memorial will be forthcoming.