Clinton High School freshman Mary Johnson gave a gift of love — and glamor — in memory of a little girl who died of cancer at the young age of 6, recently, offering up locks of her brownish-blonde hair.
It wasn’t the first time the teenager has offered a little bit of herself to help others.
“This is the fourth time that I have donated to Locks of Love,” said Johnson at the salon off of US 421, as she was getting her hair cut Friday afternoon. “This year I am doing it in memory of a little girl named Lydia Byrd.” Friday Johnson cut over 13 inches of her hair to donate to the cause.
“Lydia’s grandparents went to our church,” said Tena Johnson, Mary’s mother, noting that the family currently lives in Virginia. The church, Beulah Baptist Church, is where Mary’s father is pastor.
The little 6-year-old, the Johnsons explained, died from a brain stem tumor. Lydia’s family realized something wasn’t just right the first day of kindergarten, Tena Johnson said. She died a few years later. On that first day her eyes were crossing and it led the family to go to a pediatric ophthalmologist, where the diagnosis soon came.
The tragedy touched those at the church, including Mary, who had given her hair to good causes on three other occasions.
“Mary had said she wasn’t going to do it anymore, cutting her hair,” divulged her mom. “But when Lydia died of cancer, she changed her mind. She chose to do it.”
Smiling as her locks were being trimmed, the teen said, ““This is the longest that it has ever been. “It takes two to three years to grow long enough. My hair grows fast.”
Mary said her hair grew really long the first time and she realized she wanted to get it cut, but not without a reason.
“My mom mentioned it,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to do that. I didn’t want to waste my hair.”
After getting it cut by stylist Lisa Dixon, Mary had mixed emotions, but knowing that it was donated in memory of a special 6-year-old made it worth it.
“I feel good now, a couple less pounds off my back,” she said, smiling again. “I like donating it. It will help cancer patients feel better about themselves.”
“Everyone told me not to get it cut,” stressed Mary. “Everyone said no, but after they found out (what it was for) they said it was nice. I will just look different.”
Johnson won’t just look different either, she explained, she’ll take less time grooming it. Every morning was a struggle with getting her hair ready for school. There were knots that wouldn’t come out and she’d have to put it up in a bun. She would go through bottles of detangler, sometimes half a bottle a day, and she felt that there was never enough.
But it was really the little girl’s death that prompted Johnson to head back to the stylist chair.
“The loss of Lydia really made me want to do something for the family and in memory of her,” Mary said, getting choked up.
Lydia Gray Byrd was the daughter of Willie and Stacey Byrd. Lydia was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor in September 2009. Lydia fought a valiant fight for over two years, surviving through 40 radiation treatments. Lydia passed away on Oct. 26, 2011.
Johnson is the daughter of Tena and Danny Johnson of Turkey. Lydia Gray Byrd was survived by her parents and two younger brothers, Luke and Sam.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122. Follow us on Twitter: @SampsonInd