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Friends remember Union’s Cafararo

‘Tony the Barber’ often made people’s days, handed out Tootsie Pops

For a man, there is something very special about getting a haircut. It can be a mini-retreat from the worries of everyday life; a time to close one’s eyes and get away from it all. For many people, getting a haircut at the RPI Campus Unisex was so much more. It was chance to visit a trusted friend, to smile and laugh, to listen and care, to talk about family, and to plan for the next vacation. One would always walk in with a smile, no matter how difficult things were for each of us, and one would always leave with a bigger smile because of that brief time with a special friend. Yes, the relationship between a man and his barber can be one of the most cherished in a man’s life, especially if that barber’s name is Tony Cafararo.

Tony died peacefully in his sleep on April 23, after battling cancer for the last six months. Each of us knew Tony and loved him. He was always happy to see each of us, and even if we didn’t need a haircut, we would often stop in to say hi, get a bite to eat, or sit outside in the sunshine and just be together. It was peaceful to be with him and he made the rest of the day feel better. Only certain people have that gift. Tony did. Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay Tony is missing him dearly. Even though the time we spent with him over the years was brief, he made us each feel special, and we hope we did the same for him. We knew he was special from the first day we met him. There are many fine people at RPI, many highly esteemed for their professional accomplishments. But for each of us, Tony was highly esteemed for the man he was, and we feel privileged to be considered among his close friends.

We remember the day spent with Tony at one of the casinos in Connecticut. The day started with breakfast in Waterford at the local dinner that was still closed at 5 am for the public but open for him and me and other special customers. A long bus trip followed. To our surprise, we were the youngest people on this casino bus. At the casino, it was all business. Tony had taught me how to play “Let It Ride,” and that is the table we spent time at. Neither of us won much, if any—we don’t remember. I do remember the bus trip back home as being relaxing with a feeling that what we just shared was special. We often talked about that day.

Meeting with Tony could be in his shop, or sharing a coffee or meal in the Student Union or one of his favorite local places. You could count on him to ask about your day and to share one of his great stories about growing up on Leonard Street in Mechanicville. The stories were always a combination of not having much as a child (and having to share everything with his twin brother, “Brutus”) and also having great adventures throughout his life. He always told you about his great extended Italian family. He cut hair for RPI Presidents, esteemed faculty, and the common man. He treated us all the same—with a smile, several jokes and great stories.

Knowing Tony meant hearing his many stories and recounting your own stories to him, and these inevitably led to overlapping with each others’ families. One of us introduced our five year old daughter to Tony, who gave her a Tootsie Roll Pop from the jar on his desk along with a great big smile. That was over 20 years ago, with many more Tootsie Roll Pop gifts along the way. Tony’s memory lives on with this young woman.

At the end of his life, he was proud to have served RPI students, faculty, and staff for over 40 years. He felt that he had made a contribution to the Institute, and he was grateful for the support from his family, as well as his many friends at RPI.

Mike McDermott
Director of Business Operations
Rensselaer Union

Jim Napolitano
Professor of Physics

Kevin Craig
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Marquette University