Ray Lingle, 42, graduated in the 1990s from Campbell University with a degree in music education, but he wasn’t in the classroom long before he realized that although he enjoyed both music and kids, disciplining mischievous and unruly youngsters was not his strong suit.
“Basically, I let the kids walk all over me,” said Lingle, with a chuckle. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, no one is paying attention to me at all.’ Eventually I became numb. I’d come home miserable. Then I’d eat ice cream for dinner just to feel better.”
As Lingle rethought his career, he took some time to consider other passions and interests. He remembered that as a teen he enjoyed styling hair. Involved in theater in high school and college, Lingle would often help out backstage with hair and makeup. When he was in college, classmates visited him at his dorm for monthly cuts and styling.
“Growing up, I always knew styling hair was something I loved to do,” he shared, “but I didn’t realize I could actually make a living doing it. Where I’m from, Havelock, North Carolina, you pay $8 for a haircut as compared to here where clients will pay a lot more.”
In 2000, Lingle enrolled in cosmetology school in Raleigh.
“From the start—I loved it,” he said. “I knew right away, this is what I should be doing.”
Lingle went on to join the staff of Carmen! Carmen! Prestige, a spa and salon featured at Belk departments stores. When in 2012, Belk partnered with Duke Cancer Institute to open Belk Boutique in the institute’s newly established flagship cancer center in Durham, Lingle soon recognized an opportunity to “give back” to the community.
“I’d had several clients and friends who had gone through cancer, many of whom I helped by cutting their hair during chemotherapy and styling it as it grew back after treatment,” remembered Lingle, who, with his husband Brian Green, lives in Durham. “It seemed that volunteering at the cancer center’s Belk Boutique was a perfect fit for me.”
Staff members at the boutique were elated with the idea. It wasn’t long before he had adopted a regular schedule volunteering once a month to cut and style hair and wigs at no cost to patients. He also offers the same service at his salon at no cost to patients not able to make an appointment on days he volunteers at the cancer center’s Belk Boutique.
“I’ve learned so much over the years through my volunteerism,” Lingle said. “I’ve found that the very people I’ve help along the way have in their own way become mentors and healers in my life. They show me how they can be strong and resilient in their circumstances. They’ve taught me how to be a more patient—a better person.”
After 19 years in the cosmetology industry, Lingle understands the impact he has on the lives of others—even if he is engag-ing with them for what seems to be the shortest amount of time.
“There aren’t a lot of things in life that have such an immediate impact,” shared Lingle, a good listener who prioritizes the desires of his clients over his own creative inclinations. “In a quick moment—as little as 45 minutes—I have an opportunity to change how a person looks, which then affects how she feels about herself and the way she then engages with others.”
Finding gratification in his volunteer work at Duke Cancer Center, Lingle hopes to increase in the coming year the number of days he comes in each month.
“This experience has made me realize how important my job is,” Lingle said. “Every day, whether it’s at the salon or at the cancer center boutique, I’m helping people feel better about themselves—and, well, it’s a beautiful, wonderful feeling to know I can make a difference.”
Video: In 2014 Belk presented to Lingle its Award of Excellence.