The man behind the mustache
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What distinguishes T. Michael O'Connor as the sheriff of Victoria County?
While the authority of the office is signified by his badge, it is not that badge, his gun, his boots nor his hat, but his mustache that people use to identify him.
"There are lots of noteworthy people with mustaches, but how many people's mustaches are famous?" questioned Deputy Chief Terry Simons.
Mustaches are a trademark of the O'Connor family - his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all had mustaches, but none have grown as big as the sheriff's.
However, O'Connor said his mustache was not originally inspired by family tradition as much as it was discovered in college when all the guys were experimenting with growing facial hair.
"It was about sophomore year of college when long hair, beards and mustaches were all in," O'Connor said. "I thought I should try it and see if it was presentable."
When O'Connor first grew his mustache, he expected it to grow dark like his eye brows and hair, but to the contrary, his mustache grew in bright red.
O'Connor said his red mustache comes from his Irish heritage.
"But my mother said if I was going to have a mustache, it had to be color coordinated, so I needed to get it dyed," O'Connor said.
He remembers his mother set an appointment in the middle of the day to go to her beautician and get his mustache dyed.
"I was very apprehensive. It was hard to stay real macho and go to a beauty shop to get it dyed, but being that my mom said it had to get done, I went," O'Connor said.
He sauntered into the beauty shop as if he was there just to visit with someone, but his mother's beautician called him back to a chair for his appointment.
"At least they had stalls, so people couldn't see my face," O'Connor said. "All they could see was my boots sticking out from beneath the stall."
But he would never get it dyed again.
"I tried trimming it myself, but it would always end up uneven or something," he said. "At the old fashioned barber shops, they could take care of the damage done."
But since barber shops faded out in the '80s, O'Connor decided to let his mustache grow out.
"I didn't know if it would grow out beyond my ears or what would happen," he said. "But it grew out, and eventually it stopped."
O'Connor shampoos his mustache and brushes it when he brushes his hair, but he doesn't style it in any way.
"It's going to be what it is," O'Connor said. "The hairs are just like wire, especially now that they are graying. They grow in every direction."
In keeping with Victoria County Sheriff's Office regulations, O'Connor's mustache does not extend past the edge of his mouth.
"You can let it grow up and out and around, just don't let it grow down," O'Connor said. "And no Fu Manchus."
The facial hair regulations allow a gas mask to seal around deputies faces and they protect jailers from having their beards grabbed by inmates.
While O'Connor does not style his facial hair, he does try to keep it presentable.
"You've seen the 'Got Milk' commercials? I try not to display my meal of recent on my upper lip," O'Connor said. "I really have had that problem because I try to be conscientious."
O'Connor has noticed children are particularly fascinated with his mustache. Some are afraid of him and cry, but most of them like to grab a fist full in their peanut butter-covered hands and hold on for dear life.
His own children, Jane O'Connor, 28, and Thomas O'Connor, 23, were no exception when they were younger.
"My children have never seen me without a mustache. They would probably disown me if I cut it off now," O'Connor said.
Thomas O'Connor said his father's mustache is awesome.
"He was about my age when he started growing it," O'Connor's son said.
Thomas has a beard - minus the red tint of his father's facial hair.
"Of course, I'm going to continue the tradition," Thomas O'Connor said, but he is still experimenting as to which facial hair suits him best.
O'Connor's wife of 32 years has never really complained about his mustache.
LuAnn O'Connor said he did not have the mustache when they started dating in about 1975, but he grew it about a year-and-a-half later.
"He was probably about 20 when he grew that mustache, and he's never cut it off," his wife said.
It's gotten bigger by the year and more wiry, but she can testify that he's never cut it.
"It tickles and gets up my nose, but no, I love that mustache," LuAnn said. "I can't imagine him without it; I think it would make him look like a baby."
O'Connor has considered shaving his mustache just for change, but he said he doesn't have the courage to.
"I guess it's part of the cowboy way," O'Connor said. "I grew up a cowboy, and I always will be. Maybe this is part of that."