Farewell to a longtime friend and hairdresser

Ray Farmer, who co-owned The Head Set on Camino Del Mar with his wife, Paula, since 1975, died from pulmonary edema on Dec. 30, 2008. He was 76.

Ray brightened many a day for his family, his clients and those who had the pleasure of knowing such a beautiful soul with an unquenchable zest for life.

"He was the sweetest man I ever knew," said Dave DeSure, who visited Ray for a haircut every month for the past 17 years. "It was not just a haircut, I enjoyed his friendship and his company. I'd like to think he felt the same way."

Raymond David Farmer, Sr., was born Jan. 23, 1932, and grew up with nine siblings in Tennessee. When he was 16 years old, he tried to join the U.S. Army to get out and see the world, but was turned away because he was too young. A year later, he returned with a doctored passport, but was too skinny.

Apparently, the recruitment officer advised he eat a bunch of bananas and try weighing in again - and the next time he was accepted. In 1949, Ray, then 17, graduated with the Army 7th Infantry Division and headed to Korea.

There, he participated in two of the decisive battles of the Korean War, the Inchon Invasion to retake Seoul and the battle at Chosin Reservoir. In between these two events, Ray was separated from his unit and stuck in a foxhole under fire for months in sub-zero temperatures.

His best friend was killed at his side, but somehow Ray was able to meet up with the U.S. Marines at Chosin Reservoir. He assisted in one of their most storied battles, in which they were vastly outnumbered and suffered massive casualties in the two-week struggle, but delivered a much greater blow to Chinese forces.

Farmer received the Silver Star for his valor.

Most of this was news to his family until last week because Ray rarely talked about his service; but family members pieced together tidbits here and there with Internet research to understand the full story.

After the Army, Ray moved to California to attend Ventura College, where he earned a degree in engineering. But it wasn't long before he decided that was not the path for him, and enrolled in beauty school.

Clearly, this was a good call on his part, because not only did he enjoy working well past retirement age cutting hair, his first job in a Los Angeles salon led him to the love of his life.

"We were married 44 years and worked together for 33," Paula Farmer said.

Their salon The Head Set was always full of laughter.

"We bounced off each other," she said. "He criticized my work, I criticized his, but we never argued. We looked at it in a positive light."

The two would start the day at 4 a.m. talking together before Ray would head to the gym and Paula for her walk with the dog. Then, Ray would phone his son, Andy Farmer, who lives in Encinitas.

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