Mitchell: Never met Hyde Park hairstylist but wish I had

SHARE Mitchell: Never met Hyde Park hairstylist but wish I had

Julia M. Smith.

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I never laid eyes on Julia M. Smith.

I was introduced to her by way of this column.

Nearly five years ago, Julia called me, and our conversation inspired a column on the true meaning of Christmas.

At the time, she was fighting breast cancer. She reached out to me because I’d written about my own battle with the disease.

But what Smith really wanted (I learned later) was to share the joy she had gotten from a poem that her granddaughter, Raven Smith, had written about wishing for a cancer cure.

Over the years, I’ve received several handwritten notes signed Julia Smith. Her notes would arrive just when the haters were getting under my skin.

When she learned last March that her cancer had returned, she shared the disappointing news in a letter in which she encouraged me to keep up the good work.

That was what she kept doing herself.


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Despite going through exhaustive treatments, Smith got up every day and went to Julia’s Studio East Hair Salon, which she opened in Hyde Park in 1986.

“Believe it or not, two weeks before she passed away, she would go for her treatment and come back to the salon and work until she got to the point she could not go anymore,” said Benia Davis, a mentor and former owner of Benia De La Coiffures in the Loop.

Julia M. Smith passed away on Aug. 1. .

“We were friends for over 46 years,” Davis said. “I don’t know anyone as passionate and dedicated to the beauty industry as Julia. She was a wonderful, wonderful person.”

Julia was born in Greenwood, Miss., on Dec. 8, 1945, and moved to Chicago in the 1960s.

She arrived with a high school education and found work at the famed Southmoor Hotel.

After studying cosmetology at one of the first black-owned beauty schools, Smith got an undergraduate degree in cosmetology at Southern Illinois University, a master’s degree from the National Beauty Culture League in Washington, D.C., and a Ph.D. from Dillard University in New Orleans.

She was on several boards of directors, including those for the Proud Lady Beauty Show, the Chicago Cosmetology Association and National Beauty Cultural League.

In 2004, Smith and Davis traveled to Milan, Italy, for the “World-Class Hairdressing” show.

“We went to Rome and spent a day in Florence,” Davis said. “Just this year, Julia and I attended the Long Beach Show. It was the last show she had the opportunity to attend.”

A memorial for Smith was held Friday.

She is survived by a son, David Smith; a daughter-in-law, Wendy Smith; a sister, Burnett Smith; a brother, Jimmie Addison; her granddaughter, Raven Smith; and nephew Daniel Smith.

Condolences were pouring in to the Cage Memorial Chapels website as word spread that Julia was gone.

“In addition to being an amazingly talented and respected hair-designer, educator and author, Julia was compassionate, generous, thoughtful and caring; and she had a magical way of making everyone around her feel special,” said Sandy Garfield.

“My late mother and I were her clients for over 20 years. She was the first professional hair stylist I ever went to, and she set the standard for African-American salon owners in Chicago,” said Kathy Mitchell.

I did not get to know Julia M. Smith.

I wish I had.

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