Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to complete Johnny Isakson’s term in the Senate. Loeffler is a multimillionaire who attended public schools in Illinois and then earned a master’s degree at DePaul. She is chief executive officer of Bakkt, a financial services company.
She is also a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream of the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Last week, Rita Wallace celebrated 50 years as CEO of her own company, Rita’s Salon, better known as Rita’s Beaute’ Rama; 50 years of helping to pave the way for women like Loeffler.
When Rita graduated from Griffin High in the early ’60s, stocks and cyber security were not in her vocabulary. But she knew she didn’t want to go into the military, which was her father’s strong suggestion to her.
“I wasn’t but 15! But Daddy kept pushing me to join the Army and ‘See the World!’ I was scared to death! So Mama got me a job at her friend’s beauty shop, and I signed up for DCT at school.” She chose brushes and scissors over marching and guns.
Rita and I both grew up in the mid-century South, knowing that our role in life was to serve. We would be wives and mothers. We could work in the mill or study to become a nurse, a secretary, a school teacher. Or if one had a special talent, like Rita did, one could become a hairdresser. But these careers were just in case the husband died or turned out to be no good.
I had few skills when I left high school. I could turn a cartwheel and do a split. I had passed one year of typing, and I knew how to flirt demurely. At one point my Sunday School teacher suggested that since I could cook a little I should try to marry a preacher. And no one I knew had any financial assets to manage.
Rita at least had a marketable skill; she had a talent for working with hair, a difficult medium. Hair is not like clay or wood that can be sculpted or turned into a piece of art. There are over 100,000 individual hairs on the average head that must be coaxed into working together to look neat and attractive. A skilled hairdresser can identify hair structures and textures, and understands how different hair types react to heat, water or chemicals.
Personally, I do not know what to do with my own hair and depend upon smart women like Rita to make me fit to be seen without a head scarf.
Rita told me that she loved her art classes in school and was always working on a craft project.
“I was sort of artsy, and doing hair was like that. Doing hair was fun. A friend and I took turns fixing and even cutting each other’s hair.”
She had the innate talent and she developed the skill to be a successful hair stylist.
In addition, Rita is friendly and welcoming. She often punctuates her comments with a giggle and her eyes are crinkly. She is good at listening and keeping confidences.
But no one taught her how to run a business. “I had to learn by trial and error how to balance expenses with income. It was a matter of discipline, especially when it came to inventory and ordering. I had to learn how to keep books. I did have a bookkeeping service when things picked up.”
“And I made myself a part of the business community. I was active in the Chamber of Commerce and served on various committees. I bought donuts and ads in programs for little league and football. I still love being part of our town.”
Rita said there were, “valley times,” both personally and professionally.
“One time, I asked the Lord to send me something else to do, something that would provide more income for my children and me. Well, he didn’t, and I considered that an answer. So I stuck with it. My faith sustains me.”
“I could not have lasted without my church and my family, and talented staff over the years, and the clients are the reason I am still here.”
And finally, I learned where she got the name Beaute’ Rama.
“It’s French.” she said, “It means the Joy of Beauty, or something like that.”
When I checked the internet, there is indeed still a Rama Beaute’ in Paris. And Rama is a Hebrew name meaning, “lofty, exalted.” And in Hindi the word Rama means, “stop, rest, rejoice, be pleased.”
Rita is not going to stop nor stand still yet. She is still working three days a week, with staff covering other days.
But she does “rejoice,” and is thankful for her 50 years on the square in Jackson.