Percy Calvin Conway, entrepreneur and master barber, peacefully transitioned to his Heavenly home on Monday, September 27, 2021 surrounded by his family. The only son born in the middle of seven sisters, Percy was born on April 6, 1931 in Camden, MS to Owens and Hattie Simpson Conway. Percy accepted Christ at an early age at Clarks Chapel of Madison County, MS. He was affectionately known to his family as “Pa Pa” (pronounced “Paw Paw”) or “Uncle Buddy” and respected in his community as “Mr. Conway”.
Percy’s mother was a champion of education. She performed cleaning of schoolyard buses in exchange for her children to attend school and this allowed Percy to become a proud graduate of Sacred Heart Catholic School in 1950. Sacred Heart is where one of his first mentors, Sister Dolorosa, taught him the importance of holding his head high in the segregated Jim Crow South – something that influenced and motivated him throughout his life. Percy was the last surviving graduate of his class.
Shortly after graduation, Percy relocated to Illinois and for a short time, Percy worked at Mastic Tile (known today as G.A.F. Corporation) before being drafted into the United States Army in October of 1951. He was stationed at Fort Breckenridge in Kentucky, where he completed basic training. After basic training, Percy was assigned to the 40th Infantry Division. He was then shipped to battle on the frontline in South Korea with the ranking of Private First Class to fight for his country in the Korean War. Several months into battle, Percy was promoted through multiple rankings including Corporal, Staff Sergeant and ultimately promoted to Sergeant First Class. In 1953, Percy received an honorable discharge from the United States Army and returned to Illinois.
Percy met and courted the late Armelia “Meya” Parham and joined her in membership at Shiloh Baptist Church under the leadership of the late Pastor Albert Harris. Percy later became a Trustee under the leadership of the late Pastor James W. Walton and continued serving under the direction of his son-in-law, Pastor Richard D. House. Christmas Eve of 1955 was the day Percy and Meya wed and four children were born of this union. The two shared a love not only for flowers and gardening, but also for beauty, cooking, and bringing people together. This sparked an interest in going into business together. Entrepreneurship was deeply embedded in the Conway family roots. Percy’s father and uncles picked cotton but also operated their own businesses in Mississippi. So it was no surprise when Percy followed suit. The Joliet and Lockport areas were blossoming for Black businesses in the 1950s, which led Percy to Weeden Barber College earning him a barber license. Later, he underwent training in real estate and became a licensed realtor all while studying business at Joliet Junior College.
Percy’s real estate training afforded him the skills to rehabilitate and sell houses in his community. He has been quoted saying, “When you’ve got nothing, you start looking for something and if you don’t find it, you build it”. Soon, he acquired a plot of land on Riley Avenue and in 1966, Conway’s Hi-Styling Barber and Beauty Shop opened. There you could find Percy “cuttin’ up some heads” and Meya “whippin’ up some hairdos”. But they didn’t stop at that one business. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Conway established other businesses in the community: a Phillips 66 Gas Station, a Car and Tire Repair Shop, a BBQ and Seafood Restaurant, an Ice Cream Parlor and a Clothing Boutique servicing the beloved Fairmont community where they lived. Because continuity was important, Percy renovated the BBQ and Seafood Restaurant into Conway’s Hair & Nail Studio for his daughters who also adopted their parents’ beauty interests. Even as a retiree, Percy’s business sense never left him as he completed two major projects. The first was a renovation on his barber shop in the spring of 2018, with the second being a complete conversion of the car and tire shop into a used car dealership the following spring of 2019.
Percy’s love for his community ignited an interest in politics and he sought many positions in order to help his fellow Fairmont residents gain better living conditions. Percy served on several boards and committees in a wide array of roles including Lockport Township Trustee, Lockport Township Water Commissioner, Lockport Township Precinct Committeeman at Large (Township Official of Illinois), Lockport Township Vocational Advisory Board, Lockport Township High School Board, Lockport Lions Club, SOS Children’s Village, Easter Seals Foundation, Beverly Bank Board of Directors, and the Hill Memorial Center of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Percy has received numerous awards in recognition of his dedicated service and achievement in the Lockport and Joliet communities.
Percy will be missed as the strong patriarch of his family as he became the glue for his family after the untimely passing of their matriarch, Meya. Percy was an amazing father, grandfather, and mentor to many. Family was something he cherished. He was adamant about continuing family bonds through various family gatherings and attending the annual CSS Family Reunions, for which he proudly served as President. He enjoyed watching Sanford & Son and the Chicago Cubs, cooking, and sharing his Mississippi stories. He was very comical – always cracking up at his own jokes. People called him the life of the party with his bubbly personality. He was a kind-hearted, cheerful giver who simply loved people.
Percy was a proud Black man, who was enthusiastic about the advancement of people in all walks of life. He was especially proud of his community and proud to be a barber. It excited him to see young barbers advancing the craft and he offered himself as a mentor whenever possible. He was constantly encouraging young men and women to gain their own meanings to success be it attaining educational goals, acquiring political offices, learning trades, or by simply not giving up. He was truly someone who never met a stranger – so much that he often had to be pulled away from conversations he would start with anyone he came across.
Music was important to Percy, as well. His face would light up and he’d get ready to sing whenever he heard gospel songs by his favorite quartet groups such as, The Canton Spirituals, Lee Williams & the Spiritual QCs, and Joe Ligon & the Mighty Clouds of Joy. But consider yourself lucky if you were ever able to witness the magical performances that ensued when he portrayed Ray Charles or when he heard his blues brother, Muddy Waters.
Percy was preceded in death by his parents, Owens and Hattie (Simpson) Conway, loving wife, Armelia Conway, sisters, Pearlean Spights, Gladys (M.C.) Hutchins, Bernice Singleton, Ida Lee (Rev. James) McMurtry, Alberta (Jesse) Carson, mother-in-law, Mary (T.J.) Wilbon, sister-in-law, Betty J. Fleming, brothers-in-law, James Draper and Joe Watkins; and son-in-law, John Woolridge.
Percy is survived by his loving and devoted children: Gwen (John) Conway of Joliet, IL, Robbie (Richard) House of Shorewood, IL, Candrea (Michael) Dennie of Joliet, IL, and Pervis (Shamila) Conway of Homer Glen, IL; four granddaughters: Brianna Woolridge of Joliet, IL, Rakelle House of Shorewood, IL, Krista Toombs of Joliet, IL, and Jordan Conway of Homer Glen, IL; five grandsons: Rishawn House of Countryside, IL, Ryan House of Shorewood, IL, Desmond Conway of Homer Glen, IL, Kylan Dennie of Joliet, IL, and Joshua Conway of Homer Glen, IL; six great-grandchildren: Jaylah, Ryan Jr., Braxton, Rishawn Jr., Nathan, and Ava Rose; two sisters: Addie Draper of Joliet, IL and Elsie Watkins of Canton, MS; brother-in-law, Vann Fleming of Woodbridge, VA; Special loved ones: James (Enid) Thompson of Chandler, AZ and Bishop Carl (Angie) White of Detroit, MI; Special nieces: Merlean Myers and Francine Thornton; godchildren: Lionel Myers and Tashia Martin; special cousin, Herbert Curry; best friend, Terry Morris; special friends: Oscar Pope, Wiley Hayes, and Prince D. Martin; Barber Shop family: Rosie Seals (retired), David Gaddy, Albert “Boo” Bailey, and Quentin “Nook” Barefield; faithful customers and some who remained clients after retirement: James Austin, Alvin Carroll, James Davis, Tom Saunders, George Tyus, and Ben Ware; a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, extended family, and friends.
Overall, Percy Conway was a faithful servant giving God all the glory for every accomplishment throughout his life. His motto was: "To God be the Glory for the Things He has Done."
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