Those who have had their shoes shined by Albert Lexie have been touched by not only a man at work, but by the inspiring message he sent. Although Lexie officially turned in his shoe polish, his message will continue to live on.
Since 1981, Lexie, 71, worked every Tuesday and Thursday at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. No matter the weather, Lexie would rise at 3:30am, take two buses from his home to work, arriving by 7:30. With his schedule precise, he would make the rounds covering the complete geography of the hospital.
His efforts paid off. He charged $5 for a shoeshine and donated every penny over that to the Free Care Fund at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. The fund was created to ensure that all Children Hospital’s patients receive the medical care they need regardless of their families’ ability to pay.
“He raised $750 his first year and he is now up to $10,000 to $15,000 a year in tips,” Greg Barrett, president of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, told ABC News. Barrett estimates that Lexie has donated anywhere from a quarter to a third of his lifetime salary to Children’s Hospital.
“One of things that nourishes Albert is he gets a chance to talk to families and see where his money is going,” Barrett said.
Barrett said Lexie found his calling working at the hospital and donating to the Free Care Fund after being inspired by the fund telethon he saw on the news over 30 years ago.
Coming full circle, Barrett said Lexie will present his 2013 donation at the 2013 Free Care Fund Telethon on Thursday.
Lexie began his shoeshine career about 40 years ago, when he built a shoeshine box in shop class, according to his website. In addition to his work at the hospital, Lexie also shines shoes in the business districts of the Mid-Mon Valley and elsewhere in the Pittsburgh area.
Kevin Coccari, 53, met Lexie in 1988 after a shoeshine visit at his office. He was so inspired by the shoeshine man he asked Lexie if he could create a website for him to share his accomplishments to the larger public. Lexie, who doesn’t own a computer, loved the idea, Coccari said.
“He could have had a bigger website designer, but he said, ‘Kevin, you’re my buddy,’ and he is very loyal to his friends,” Coccari told ABC News.
Coccari said Lexie still does not own a computer and sends all the emails Lexie receives to him through snail mail.
Coccari said he tries to keep current with all of Lexie’s accomplishments, but has to rely on Google and newspapers to keep up with Lexie. He also looked forward to his weekly shoeshine, when they would catch up.
These accomplishments include being inducted into the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans by the Caring Institute in 2006. Lexie was recognized by People magazine, in collaboration with the Major League Baseball organization, as one of the “All-Stars Among Us” in 2010.
The Children’s Hospital published a book inspired by Albert’s generosity titled “Albert’s Kids: The Heroic Work of Shining Shoes for Sick Children.” The book came out in March 2012 and is available on Amazon. It was written by a physician at the hospital to tell the story of Albert and to give that story to all children, said Barrett.
“Albert represents the best nature of all of us,” Barrett said. “He really doesn’t ask for anything. Albert is unfazed by all of it.”
“He gave all of his tips away,” said Coccari. “That to me is tops, you can’t beat that.”
Said Barrett, “It’s going to be very hard when he is gone.”