Louis Ayala, a Fort Worth barber who was honored last year for his 75-year career, died last week of complications from COVID-19, according to his family.
Ayala started to feel bad Jan. 5. He tested positive for COVID-19 the next day and was admitted to the hospital, his daughter, Melissa Ayala-Frazier said. He died Thursday, Jan. 14 in the evening at age 90.
“It was just so aggressive, the pneumonia just was so aggressive and it just consumed his lungs," Ayala-Frazier said.
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She said some of their final words to them included, "We told him we would all be fine, but we loved him very much and, that it was OK, we would all be OK."
"That's the hard part is, him being a statistic. With all the doubters out there that this disease is a hoax or fake or whatever, it is real. It's real tough and hit our family," said Ayala's son Sam.
He said just this past week they lost Louis Ayala's brother-in-law, his uncle, to COVID-19 and now their dad.
"When it's your own family member, that's what that's what really hurts," Sam Ayala said.
Before he contracted the virus, Ayala had been going to a boxing class to fight symptoms of Parkinson's disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2018.
His daughter said Ayala had shown significant progress in rebuilding his stamina and coordination in the year he spent in the Punching Out Parkinson's program established by his great-nephew, two-time boxing champion Paulie Ayala.
"He was the oldest in the class and he had the strongest punch," Ayala-Frazier said.
Ayala's daughter said her father was still able to cut hair part time.
"He still had a steady hand and he said, 'As long as I have a steady hand, I'm going to keep working.' He said, 'I'll know, when I see my hands start shaking then I know it's time to hang up the clippers and the scissors," Ayala-Frazier said.
She said her father's last time in the ring and final hair cut were Monday, Jan. 4.
“It was sad because I had just seen him last Monday, he came in here and trained with everyone at the gym," Paulie Ayala said of his great uncle. "To get that news like that over a week later, it’s sad. I wish we could have said our last goodbye.”
Louis Ayala was deeply rooted in his North Fort Worth community, where he kickstarted his long career at 9 years old shining shoes at a neighborhood barbershop.
One day, his employer took him downtown to the barber school and paid the $100 tuition for Ayala. By the time he was 14 he was going to middle school by day and barber school at night, Ayala-Frazier said.
Her father started to cut hair professionally in 1945 when he was 15.
In 1958, he opened Ayala's Barber Shop on North Main Street. He stayed at the shop until 2019, when he began to lease it to other barbers and joined his wife, Delia, at her salon on Northeast 23rd Street.
In September, the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation, which regulates barbers, recognized him for his 75th year in the profession, and in October, the Fort Worth City Council presented him with a proclamation honoring his service in the community.
"Haircuts. That was his life. That was his lifeblood. For those who couldn't afford it, it was not a thing," Ayala-Frazier's husband Stewart Frazier said.
The 90-year-old was known for his generosity, kindness and humor.
"He was a pillar for the Hispanic and Northside community and he never ever met a stranger, he loved people," he said about his father-in-law.
Ayala-Frazier said that if something had to be done in his North Side community, her father knew how to make it happened. An avid golfer, Ayala was a member of the city's golf advisory council and worked to help save the Rockwood Golf Course, she said.
"He was unstoppable," she said. "An unstoppable driving force."
Ayala is survived by his wife, Delia, and six children, Ayala-Frazier, Louis Jr. Ayala, Emily Ayala, Sam Ayala, Melissa Ann Ayala, Melissa Maria Ayala and Cecilia Ayala. He is preceded in death by his son Albert Ayala.
His family asks that any donations made in his honor benefit Punching Out Parkinson's.