A Cut Above: Duke’s Longest-Serving Barber Gets a Place in the Library

Robin and Mark Prak with David Fowler (R).
Robin and Mark Prak with David Fowler (R).

The plaque next to the door reads: “In honor of David W. Fowler, Jr., the Duke of Barbers for Over 50 Years.”

You could easily miss it if you didn’t know it was there, tucked away in a corner on the lower level of Perkins Library—a coveted nook of peace and quiet in an otherwise bustling hub of high-tech classrooms known as the Link.

It’s a place of refuge, this small group study with glass walls that students can write on. In that respect, it’s not so different from another campus hideaway in the basement of Duke’s West Union: the Duke Barbershop, a much-loved institution owned and operated by the same David Fowler whose name is on this plaque.

Duke has had a barbershop on its campus since 1912. Fowler has worked there for more than half that time. He started out as one of six employees in 1959. Now he runs the place, often arriving at 6:30 a.m. to meet his early-rising clientele.

Over the course of five decades, this North Carolina native from Smithfield has cut the hair of thousands of Duke students, faculty, physicians, staff, alumni, and not a few Duke presidents. He has seen the campus grow from a small but respected liberal arts college in the South to a globally renowned research institution.

But one thing that hasn’t changed in all that time is the character of the man Mark J. Prak (’77, JD ’80) calls “a true southern gentleman, one of a dying breed.”

Earlier this year, Prak and his wife, Robin Huestis Prak (’75), decided they wanted to pay tribute to the man who has been their family barber and good friend for many years. That’s when they hit upon the idea of naming a library group study in Fowler’s honor.

At a naming ceremony in the Link this past August, with many of Fowler’s close friends, family, and longtime customers in attendance, Mark Prak spoke fondly about the barbershop as a beloved fixture of campus, as much a part of “Dear Old Duke” as basketball or gothic arches.

“This barbershop was and always will be special to me,” said Mark, who first sat down in Fowler’s barber chair as a Duke freshman in August 1973. “Like the bar in the TV show Cheers, it’s a place of community, fellowship, and conversation, where everybody knows your name.”

“Dave Fowler is the only person who has ever cut my hair, and I dread his retirement,” said Robin. “Our whole family has wonderful memories of coming to the barbershop. It’s something that has kept me coming back to campus every six weeks like clockwork, even if it isn’t football or basketball season.”

The Praks aren’t alone. Everyone at the ceremony seemed to have a story about David Fowler. And he could tell some stories on them as well—enough to fill a library as big as this one. Not that he ever would. “A good barber knows how to keep secrets,” Fowler joked.

With plans under way to renovate the West Union, changes are coming for the barbershop. But Fowler doesn’t seem too concerned. He has seen building renovations come and go, and the shop has changed locations more than once. His devoted customers should take heart. “I’m not retiring yet,” he said.

If and when he ever does, the Duke of Barbers will always have a little spot on campus he can call his own.


Library Naming Opportunities

Naming a library space is a great way to honor someone in your life or celebrate a milestone, and it meets a critical need for today’s busy students—an attractive space to work. The Libraries have a variety of spaces available. We invite you to check out our new interactive map of naming opportunities online.

Click on the building image above to find out more about naming opportunities.
Click on the building image above to find out more about naming opportunities.

2 thoughts on “A Cut Above: Duke’s Longest-Serving Barber Gets a Place in the Library”

  1. I first met David Fowler when I was young.He was quite young himself when he started working in the barber shop. He had joined the older barbers like Mr. Nash who worked for my grandfather, William Moses “Pap” Ervin(We called my grandfather “Papaw”) in the Duke Barber Shop in the basement of the old Student Union Bldg. across from the “Dope Shop”. From day one I always remember how kind he was to everyone that crossed his path. He is a very good barber but an even better person. My “Papaw” would be so proud of David. I’m sure he’s looking down from heaven and saying, “David’s done well for himself.” Congratulations, David.

    “The Ervin Family”

  2. Dave Fowler is a man of the finest sort. Kinda grew up in church with him. Great tribute.

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