For 31 years, Albert Lexie remained steadfastly devoted to his job, waking up before dawn and making the nearly two-hour journey to Pittsburgh by bus.
His destination: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. With that kind of dedication, you’d think he worked as a physician or nurse, some position that required long hours and came with the requisite salary for so much sacrifice. But you’d be wrong.
From 1982-2013, Albert shined shoes. Sixteen to 17 pairs, twice a week, $3 a pop. His annual salary came out to about $10,000, not including tips. But it’s what he did with those tips that won him hearts, accolades, and numerous awards during his three decades of work: He gave his tips, all $200,000 of them, to Free Care Fund, which helps cover the medical costs for uninsured and underinsured children.
He only attended school through the eighth grade, but he built his first shoeshine box that year as part of a class assignment, and that’s the one he used from 1982-2013, when he officially retired. And those years of service and sacrifice certainly didn’t go unnoticed. He was honored by People magazine, inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Caring Institute, even recognized at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2010!
Obviously, he wasn’t in it for the money, and getting to and from work at such odd hours couldn’t have been easy, especially as he started getting older. So… what was his incentive?
Why I come to work every day is there’s joy in seeing people and talking to people and having fun and doing things … Children’s Hospital’s my favorite place because you get to see lots of kids and shake their little hands and try to give little toys away, things like that.
His life’s work was so touching and inspiring that the hospital foundation eventually encouraged him to write an autobiography, “Albert’s Kids: The Heroic Work of Shining Shoes for Sick Children,” which came out six years ago. By telling his story, he hoped to inspire more people to do good in the world, whether by shining shoes and donating their tips or in some other way using their unique stills.
That’s just how he decided to do it, but what matters is getting behind causes that are close to their hearts. And for Albert, those were the sick children of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Sadly, Albert passed away, at the age of 76. But his legacy lives on in all the lives he touched, whether by shining shoes, through friendly conversation, or letting sick children benefit from the tip money he earned from all those shoe shines.
Please share this story to let everyone know about Pittsburgh’s own “Shoeshine Saint” and to thank him for making the world a better place.
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