Jean M. “Duke” Dulac poses Oct. 29, 1993, with ballots from his barber shop’s political poll. Dulac, who gained national attention for how accurate his polls were at predicting election results over three decades, died last week. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file
AUGUSTA — Jean M. “Duke” Dulac, whose political polls at his Augusta barber shop gained national attention for their accuracy at predicting election results for more than three decades, has died.
The political polling of Dulac, 88, of Augusta, at his Duke’s Rotary Barbershop first gained fame when it was the only polling that correctly predicted the upset election of Independent James Longley as Maine’s governor in 1974.
“Nobody was predicting Longley was going to win, except the Duke’s barber poll — it was the only accurate poll in the state of Maine,” said attorney Roger Katz, a former state senator and mayor of Augusta. “So the press started to pay more attention to it, after that.”
Katz described Dulac as an Augusta original, someone who loved his city, Cony sports and politics.
“If you ever wanted to know anything going on, politically, you’d find time for a haircut,” Katz said. “He really had his finger on the pulse. I was in once, in the early 90s, for a haircut, and right before me was Gov. John McKernan. I went after him and got my haircut, and who is next in line? Chief Justice Dan Wathen. Where else but Duke’s would you have that experience?”
Dulac, who died Sept. 7, opened his barber shop on Memorial Circle — roughly where Walgreens is now — in 1965.
Barber Ray Fecteau, 78, of Augusta, worked alongside Dulac for 42 years. He remembers when they started polling their customers in the mid-1970s on how they planned to vote, just for fun, and to see how it turned out. They noticed the polling was very accurate — over the years, Dulac estimated it was correct more than 90% of the time — and so they continued for more than three decades, until the shop closed in the mid-2000s and Dulac moved on to cut hair at other spots in the city.
“We had men and women, both, we had seven chairs and three out back were beauticians, and we were a busy place,” Fecteau said. “We didn’t have too many (polls) we fouled up on — our customers seemed knowledgeable about what was going on. We had a lot of people, from all walks of life, that’d come in.”
Thomas Levesque looks at his ballot in October 1987 while Jean M. “Duke” Dulac gives him a haircut at Duke’s Rotary Barber Shop in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file
Fecteau said Dulac came from a poor living situation growing up and made himself a success with his barbering. He said the shop also provided a decent living for himself and the other haircutters, many of whom also stayed there for many years. If you worked hard, you could eek out a living for your family there, he said.
The barber shop was also known for its elaborate growth of flowers, bringing color to the rotary, mostly from the petunias that eventually overgrew everything else. Fecteau said the barber shop was so resplendent with flowers some people would stop there thinking it was a flower shop.
William Bridgeo, who retired last year after many years as Augusta’s city manager, said a haircut from Dulac was always an adventure. He said he just ran into Dulac a couple of weeks ago and he was still full of the positive energy and enthusiasm he was known for.
“In 15 minutes our conversations would range from city government — he loved having the city manager captive in his chair just as he did governors and senators and captains of industry — to local history, another passion of his, to his wonderful family, especially how all of his grandchildren were doing in school sports and academics,” Bridgeo said. “He had immense pride in his community and with his amazing political polls brought an upbeat focus to the issues of the day.”
Dulac was a regular at youth sporting events, often in support of his many grandchildren. He sponsored many sports youth teams and was an award recipient with the Maine Sports Legends.
He was recognized with the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s lifetime achievement award. He also served as a Mason and a Shriner with Kora Shriners in Lewiston and was a past president of the Kennebec Valley Shrine Club.
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