Shoeshiner Albert Lexie clearly believed in the saying “a little bit goes a long way.” The 76-year-old man from Monessen, PA recently passed away, but not without leaving a legacy behind at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Tips for shinings – priced between two and three dollars – turned into the Free Care Fund, which provides medical care to underinsured children in the Pittsburgh area. Helping “Albert’s Kids,” as he liked to call them, became his life mission, and the fund often made more money than Albert’s annual salary of $10,000, reaching just over $202,000 by his retirement in 2013.
Lexie was raised by his mother in a housing project and built his first shoeshine box in the eighth grade before taking it around to small businesses in the Western Pennsylvania Mon Valley. Although he never completed high school, his relentless work ethic remained with him throughout early adulthood until he started working at UPMC—with that same shoeshine box—in 1981. Over the course of 30 years, Lexie made an impression on everyone he met, often helping others see past daily difficulties to rally around the children they were all working to support.
In a post-retirement interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Albert explained that he just “wanted to see the kids get well, to see they got well and got better and things like that.” The man did that and so much more, as a smile and hello from Albert became a bright spot for members of the hospital each day. Oh, and Albert sure could shine a pair of shoes—shoeless hospital workers could often be spotted roaming the halls while they waited for their daily shine.
Although it was never his goal, Albert received local and national praise for his efforts at UPMC, appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and at the MLB All-Star Game. A biography entitled “Albert’s Kids: The Heroic Work of Shining Shoes for Sick Children” was also published in 2012 by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation with proceeds going to the foundation. The hospital sent a tribute video to its employees following Albert’s death on October 13th. The man who started with so little sure did leave a mark on those who knew him.
We Salute you, Albert Lexie, for reminding all of us that compassion, hard work, and a smile can change the lives of many.