ST. PETE BEACH — Frank Sacco learned to cut hair in the late 1920s.
No school, no apprenticeship. Just a teenager learning with a pair of scissors.
First he cut the hair of family members. Later he gave buzz cuts to World War II soldiers.
Eventually, Mr. Sacco's businesses accounted for thousands of haircuts in the Tampa Bay area. At one point, barber poles twirled the universal sign for haircut in more than a dozen Pinellas County locations.
He warmed customers with steamed towels, soothed their faces with rich lather and polished them off with a straight razor. If they had a question, he would answer it.
If they didn't want to talk at all, that was fine, too.
Mr. Sacco, who had co-owned at least 13 barber shops in St. Pete Beach, Seminole and Largo, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 98.
Though pleasant and polite, Mr. Sacco was hardly a glad-handing entrepreneur.
"He didn't like jokes," said Daisy Sacco, his wife of 74 years.
Nor did Mr. Sacco appreciate having his photo shown publicly. Hence no photo runs with his online obituary or with this story.
"He didn't like to be photographed. I don't know why," said Daisy Sacco, 95. "His family was like that."
They met in the mid-1930s, when he was 22 and she was 19. His father had a produce business in Ybor City. Her father made cigars there. Neighbors knew each other then, took care of each other's children.
They married, moved to New York, returned to Tampa.
Mr. Sacco cut hair for soldiers and sailors near a Tampa shipyard. He later enlisted in the Army but was released due to a respiratory ailment, his wife said.
In the 1950s he moved to Pinellas County, where he had heard business was better. He worked at a barber shop on Corey Avenue. In the late 1950s or early 1960s, Mr. Sacco bought that shop with a partner. Over the years, Mr. Sacco and his partner went on to open shops in Seminole and Largo.
He relaxed with woodworking at home, making clocks and desks. Though careful in his dealings with others, Mr. Sacco believed in lending a hand when needed.
"If he knew somebody needed money or was in trouble or did not have food, he would help," his wife said.
He stopped working about 30 years ago due to health problems, his wife said. He sold all of the barber shops but one, Esquire Barber Shop in Seminole.
"He used to come over and collect the money on Fridays," said Gary Grunett, 63, who has been cutting hair there for 20 years. "He would put it in a Styrofoam cooler because he thought no one would think to look in there. He used that same cooler for 20 years."
Mr. Sacco enjoyed fixing things in the garage. But recently he struggled with a variety of health problems, including bone cancer. Daisy Sacco said it is hard to describe the emotions behind losing her husband of 74 years. He may not have been the most talkative man, but she always understood him perfectly.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.