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Running a beauty salon — at 93

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Haul of trophies: Dorothy Matthews-Paynter with some of her hairdressing trophies. She has been included in a who’s who of professional hairdressers(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Dorothy Matthews-Paynter dreamed of becoming a hairdresser, a teacher and a lawyer when she was a child.

She got part of her wish.

The 93-year-old runs her own beauty salon, has a nursing certificate and a doctoral degree in cosmetology.

“All that’s left now is for me to pass the bar exam,” she joked.

She and four younger siblings grew up on Lover’s Lane in Paget. They were orphaned when she was 11, and raised by their grandmother.

“I’ve been doing hair since the beginning,” Dr Matthews-Paynter said. “I used to do the hair of my classmates at the Paget Glebe School.”

They would give her their pocket money in payment.

At 13, she went to work to help support her siblings. She started out at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, but quit suddenly when she was harassed by an older, male orderly.

“I threw a cup in his face and split his head,” said Dr Matthews-Paynter. “When I saw all the blood on his uniform I ran home. I told my grandmother things were slow at the hospital and they laid me off.

“My grandmother said she never heard of things being slow at a hospital.”

Dr Matthews-Paynter was 17 when she heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Not having a lot of experience with the outside world, she thought they meant Harbour Road.

“I cried and hid,” she said. “When I told my grandmother, she also thought they meant Harbour Road.”

Finally, a neighbour assured them that Pearl Harbor was a place far away.

During the Second World War she worked at the Everest Hotel on Church Street, where the MarketPlace is now.

“I worked for Peter Welch,” she said. “One of the hotel guests was Otto Strasser. He was a former Nazi party leader who had fled Europe through Portugal after falling out with Hitler.

“He never came out of his room and I never saw him. I had to take meals to his secretary who would take them to him. I was sent into town to buy him clothes. He’d arrived in Bermuda with only the clothes on his back.”

Her only time off was every third Sunday, starting at 3pm.

“I wonder if children today would work those kinds of hours,” she said. “I got a shilling every two weeks. That was a lot of money in those days. I used to really look forward to that money.”

After the war, she did hairdressing out of her home.

“I did a lot of correspondence courses,” she said. “I finished high school through a course out of Chicago. In 1952, I decided to go away because I wanted to properly do the styles of the day. Styles were changing and I was having trouble with them.”

She studied cosmetology and hairdressing at the Apex College in New York.

“When I came back I said I’m not doing any hair until I get a shop,” she said. “Those girls said ‘You did my hair in the kitchen and you weren’t even qualified, now you’re qualified we don’t care where you do it’.”

Her first salon was located across from Warwick Academy; she opened Dottie’s Unisex Beauty Centre at 21 King Street in 1970. It is still open for business, although she took this summer off due to a leg problem. Along the way she qualified to treat scalp problems.

“People were coming to me with patches of hair missing, and other problems,” she said. “They said ‘the hairdresser did this’ but I thought it can’t all be the hairdresser.”

She obtained her PhD in cosmetology in 1996 from the Dudley Cosmetology University in Kernersville, North Carolina.

“I wanted to go as far as I could,” she said. “I told my daughter I wanted to get my PhD and she said, ‘We’ll all be dead and gone when that happens’. So I went and got it.”

She met her first husband Clinton, on the dance floor of the old Alexandrina Hall in Hamilton. After several years of marriage he died. After more than 30 years of widowhood she married her childhood sweetheart Alwyn Paynter in 1993. She was 72, and he was 73.

“I sure never thought I would get married at that age,” she said. “He wanted to visit when we were 16; my grandmother chased him away.”

He popped up in her life again many years later, after they’d both lost their spouses.

“He came into the store,” said Dr Matthews-Paynter. “I had unknowingly hired his daughter to work for me. He said he was lonely after his wife died. I said my next husband would have to have twice as much as I had. He thought to himself he didn’t have half what I had.”

Mr Paynter moved to Arizona and married someone else.

The two didn’t see each other again until another decade passed and his second wife died. This time Dr Matthews-Paynter didn’t let him slip away. They were married in 1994.

“We were married ten years before he died,” she said. “I sure wish we’d had more time together. He was really good to me. In the time that we were married I never cooked a meal or ironed a shirt.”

For the last 50 years, Dr Matthews-Paynter has been organising special hairdressing events to raise money for charity.

She has written and performed several plays including Hair Do Heaven and Oh No, Mama I’ve Had Enough. She used funds raised from her last play to send 12 boys to summer camp this year.

She received the Queen’s Badge of Honour in 2008 for her charitable work, and has been included in a who’s who of professional hairdressers.

“I am just proud that despite being an orphan and having no earthly father, I have come this far,” she said.

She has an easy answer when people ask her about retirement: “They say hairdressers don’t die, they just curl away.”

Dr Matthews-Paynter had four children. Walter and Edward, who are both deceased, and Yvette and Cornel. She also has 13 grandchildren and more than 20 great-grandchildren

Childhood dream realised: Dorothy Matthews-Paynter, owner of Dottie’s Unisex Beauty Centre on King Street, has been doing hair since childhood(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Picture this: Hairdresser and cosmetologist Dorothy Matthews-Paynter with a portrait of herself and a client(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)