Many Milton residents might know Roi Barnard from his pink and green 1830s home on Federal Street that he jokingly calls the dollhouse. Others connect Barnard with Salon Roi, his hair salon at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street in Washington, D.C., where a huge painting of Marilyn Monroe is emblazoned on the side of building. The popular, upscale salon has become a tourist attraction, with buses regularly stopping so visitors can view the mammoth mural.
Barnard, now 72, says the scourge of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s claimed many of his friends.
“I’m the only guy left out of all those guys, and I don’t know why. I feel I gotta do good stuff the rest of my life. You don’t get left for no reason,” he said. “People don’t talk about the fallout from AIDS, but there is. It’s like napalm.”
Still, he doesn’t dwell on it, but instead, he recalls a life of opportunity, switching the conversation to past and recent successes.
Barnard was born near the Outer Banks in Poplar Branch, N.C., where he lived with seven other siblings. He said his home had no indoor plumbing, and his parents, while they could read and write, only had a sixth-grade education.
In 1956, he said the FBI came to his sleepy little town, seeking employees. After examining his church attendance and neighborhood involvement, the FBI recruited Barnard to work in Washington, D.C. where they paid for his courses at George Washington University. “Actually, the government came and got me. I was one impoverished kid,” he said. “They gave me a job and sent me to school. I owe the government an awful lot,” he said.
In D.C., Barnard worked from 1956 to 1959 in fingerprinting and classification. In 1957, then-director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover presented Barnard with a meritorious service award for the volume of fingerprinting he performed, he said.
The Federal Trade Commission also employed him, but he quit after two years. “I thought, ‘What was I going to do with my life?’ Everyone kept telling me, ‘You should be a clothing model,’” he said.
In 1962, he began modeling and soon became the top male model in D.C., a profession that lasted a decade. “It’s funny about life,” he said.
Barnard eventually moved to New York City where he became acquainted with Andy Warhol. “He was trying to get me into the Factory,” said Barnard. The Factory was Warhol’s studio, which quickly became a gathering place for movie stars, artists and rampant drug use.
“Something kept telling me don’t get involved – maybe my North Carolina upbringing. I didn’t do drugs,” he said. Still, he became friends with Factory regulars Edie Sedgwick, Joe Dalessandro and Holly Woodlawn. “I even got a signed Warhol,” he said.
Wanting to get out of the modeling business, Barnard said he met a friend who owned a hair salon, who encouraged him to study cosmetology. “I was becoming less enchanted by modeling and all the drug use. The business was becoming terrifying. I was sure if I didn’t get out of New York something bad would happen. I could see there was trouble coming,” said Barnard, who moved back to D.C. as a hair stylist.
The AIDS war
Sitting at his kitchen table, Barnard’s fingers are adorned with large, rectangular gold rings. On his wrists are flat gold bracelets, which match large, square cuff links. His tone turns somber as he recalls friends who become sick and soon died.
“In 1982, things started happening,” said Barnard.
In the salon he owned with his partner, he said five colleagues died at nearly the same time. Then, the disease struck his partner, who died of an AIDS-related brain tumor.
“From 1980 to 1993, there was a big shock. I stood there and watched friends die,” he said.
Barnard became an AIDS activist, working with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a hospital specializing in HIV infection and AIDS. In 1982, he received a letter of recognition from Georgetown University School of Medicine for helping provide them with information about how AIDS was spreading in the gay community and helping them identify other high-risk groups.
Former Washington Mayor Marion Barry and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also recognized Barnard’s contributions to AIDS policy.
A move to Milton
In 1988, Barnard first came to Milton, although his eyes were originally set on Lewes. “Well, to put it bluntly, my lover died of AIDS. I had an insurance check. We had always talked about coming to the shore and buying a place. When I came to Lewes, I realized my time had passed. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to pay $150,000 for a house,” he said. Balking at prices in Lewes, he said his agent suggested Milton, 15 minutes away.
“In 1988, Milton was hours away from the beach,” he said.
“I came down Cave Neck Road by the church and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I saw this house and said, ‘Oh my God. What a cute house,’ and it had a for sale sign. A half hour later, I bought it,” he said.
In 2007, he sold his business and became a part-time employee at his own salon. Three days a week, he still styles 45 clients – many of them third generation, he said.
“I still have a clientele. If I gave you the names, there would be a security breach,” he said. “I know everything about them. It’s sacred. And, we’re growing old together,” he said.
In Milton, Barnard volunteers with Milton Historical Society. He recently teamed up with Salon Milton where he cut hair and donated the proceeds to the society.
At Cadbury at Lewes, Barnard cuts hair for free for elderly clients – one client has been with Barnard for 40 years. He also volunteers in Wilmington at Ingleside Home Health Care, doing the same.
“I can’t let these people go. They built me. They supported me,” he said. “You have to give back. If not, the house of cards falls down, and you end up on the sidewalk,” he said.
“Everyone has a story. Isn’t it great? I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to tell it,” he said.