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Fond Memories of 'The University Barber'

January 8, 2010

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Daniel Gatto, who died on Dec. 31 at the age of 77, was a barber at the University at Albany for 35 years, from 1967 to 2002. In that time, he built up a fiercely loyal clientele of faculty, staff and students. He was a native of Salerno, Italy, who settled in the U.S. in 1945.

Even during the past seven years, when he worked only part-time -- ultimately only two days per week -- at the Turnpike Barber Shop on Western Avenue in Albany, dozens of current and retired UAlbany workers and alumni would schedule their haircuts around the Tuesdays and Saturdays when “Dan” would be on duty.

UAlbany patrons received more than a great haircut from Dan, who proudly hung on the wall next to his barber’s mirror a photo taken at a UAlbany retirement luncheon: he with then President Karen Hitchcock, both smiling broadly. While attending to one UAlbany head, he spoke of others that had recently been there, and of how that person and other UAlbany people were getting on.

One of those loyal UAlbany people was Professor Emeritus Donald Reeb of economics, who wrote the following upon Mr. Gatto's passing.

Dan Gatto was my colleague, my barber and my friend.

In a world where everything changes, it did not strike me as amazing that I went to the same barber for more than 40 years. Then I went to the barbershop to get yet one more haircut and received the sad news.

Over the years, Dan and I talked about many things: his dreams when he came to United States; his experience serving in the U.S. Army; his hopes for his son and his grandchildren; his love for his family in Amsterdam, N.Y., and his sister in Italy; and how much he missed his brother who had lived in Amsterdam also.
 
I will enjoy thinking about him and remembering him.

Once he and I discussed our "commonsense philosophy" -- I do not remember what I said but I remember what he said to me: "every man deserves 20 minutes in the barber chair when he comes in for a haircut regardless of who he is or what he has done."

Dan thought about how we all fit together in this world, a sure trait of an intelligent and kind man. There are too few men we meet in life that we can truly label a 'mensch' -- a man of quality. And Dan was certainly one. The rest of us can only aspire to such status.

-- Don Reeb

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