At the age of 18, Earl Daniel Doran cut his first head of hair. That started him on a journey as a barber that would span five decades, including being a long-time fixture in the Hotel Roanoke and then later on Church Avenue in downtown Roanoke. His clientele would regularly include the leading citizens of the community. Now, the community has been blessed by the same generosity of spirit that made Earl so beloved, as Earl has provided a major charitable bequest through his estate.
At his passing last year, Earl bequeathed approximately $1.8 million to the region’s community foundation, Foundation for Roanoke Valley, to establish The Earl D. and Carrie Leigh Doran Fund. The Doran Fund, a permanent endowment, will annually support a number of nonprofits that were of interest to Earl and Carrie; it will support nonprofits that help individuals and families confronting catastrophic, life-altering circumstances; and it will support nonprofits that provide shelter, care and assistance to battered women.
Shelby Tucker, owner of Corporate Image barber shop on Church Avenue, vividly remembers her first meeting with Earl. In March 1988, Earl called the Virginia Hair Academy to inquire if any of the Academy’s graduates might have an interest in buying his business, as he was looking to retire. Shelby decided to go look at the space, then located at 8 Church Avenue, next to her current location. She knew immediately that she wanted to buy the business from Earl, and he agreed to stay on with her part-time for several days. Tucker said, “I learned more from him in those four days than my 1500 hours of school studies. In addition to his sheer knowledge of the craft, his personality and how he interacted with customers was what really made him an outstanding barber.”
While barbering was a major part of Earl’s life, there were many other facets to him. He was a decorated World War II veteran, investor, gentleman farmer, world traveler and member of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church of Troutville. During World War II, Earl proudly served his country as a member of the First Infantry Division – known as “The Big Red One” – which landed at Sicily, fought in North Africa, and went ashore in June 1944 as part of the Normandy Invasion. He received the Purple Heart for wounds incurred at Utah Beach. In 1965, Earl purchased a 45 acre farm in the Catawba Valley and he would spend many hours on that property.
Don Wetherington, a Fincastle attorney and long-time friend of Earl’s noted: “Over the years, Earl was devoted to his wife Carrie, and she was equally devoted to him. In 1985, when Carrie retired, they bought an RV and planned to drive around the country. Carrie fell ill before the first trip, and she would die about a year later. Over that year, Earl dedicated himself as a tireless caregiver and never once complained.”
Wetherington continued, “Earl met no stranger, and many considered him a friend. He was equally comfortable in the company of power brokers or the minimum wage [earners]. I never heard him speak an unkind word about anyone, and gossip was no part of him. During his earlier retirement years, he’d sometimes tell me, “You need a haircut,” and he’d set up shop on the pavement at the edge of his garage, wrap a sheet around me and deliver the usual package of fine haircut and funny stories, but always without charge. “Just friendship,” he would say. “I tell you, for Earl, the mold was used but once.”
Ginny Jarrett, First Vice President for Investments with Davenport & Company, LLC, worked with Earl in a professional role but was also a close friend. Jarrett said, “Part of what made Earl so special was that you couldn’t walk down the street without him knowing everyone that passed by. He had such a special sense of humor, but he called things like he saw them. There was never anything phony about him. And one of my dearest memories was being able to spend Father’s Day with Earl shortly after the passing of my own father.”
One of Earl’s friends and traveling companions was Carl Pollard of Salem. They traveled throughout Europe and rode camels together around the pyramids of Egypt. Carl said “Earl and I had a lot in common, and in addition to our travels, we both really enjoyed square dancing. He was a good fellow all around.”
Alan Ronk, Executive Director of Foundation for Roanoke Valley, said “I had the opportunity to visit with Earl on several occasions and his fondness for the Roanoke Valley and his concern for others were always quite apparent. It is an honor for the Foundation to hold and administer this Fund, and its annual grants will touch the lives of many, many people in very real ways. The Fund will also perpetuate Earl and Carrie’s lives in the Valley for generations to come.” Jarrett added, “It is so nice to know that their estate assets will now continue to help the community they loved.”
Earl Daniel Doran’s passing last year may not have been met with a lot of fanfare, but the Valley lost one its most colorful, complex and beloved personalities. In his own way, he was a Renaissance man: a man of integrity, a loyal-to-a-fault friend, a shrewd businessman, a gentle conversationalist who held deep convictions, a man comfortable in a sophisticated restaurant in China or herding livestock in Catawba, a war hero, a jokester and entertainer, a deeply devoted husband, an occasional distiller, an accomplished dancer, a barber par excellence, and now a major community philanthropist. That seems like an 88 year life well-lived.