A Monessen man known for his shoe shining business that raised money for UPMC-Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh died Tuesday.
Albert Lexie, 76, spent much of his life shining shoes and donating his earnings to the hospital. According to Andrea Kunicky, media relations manager for the hospital, Lexie donated more than $202,000 to the hospital’s Free Care Fund.
“Albert was a guy with a huge heart, who really taught us of the real spirit of philanthropy,” said Chris Gessner, president of Children’s Hospital. “All the employees really appreciated Albert’s selfless commitment to the mission of the hospital. His goal was that every kid that needed care received care.”
Gessner has worked with the hospital for 18 years and has been president for 10. He said Lexie started shining shoes at the hospital in 1982, after hearing about the Free Care Fund on television. He continued his work there for more than 30 years.
“He has shined my shoes many times,” Gessner said. “He would arrive the same time every week and we happened to have a standing appointment.”
Lexie would take multiple buses before 6 a.m., Gessner said, and arrive at the hospital by 7:30 a.m. to shine shoes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“It was uplifting to watch him come to work and to take buses to get here,” he said.
The hospital wasn’t his only place to shine either. Louis Mavrakis, former mayor of Monessen, said Tuesday he remembered a young Lexie shining his shoes.
“I knew him when he was a kid,” Mavrakis said. “He used to catch the bus or hitch hike from Monessen to Charleroi to shine shoes over there and all over the place. He did that all the way until he retired.”
Mavrakis said through the decades of shining shoes, Lexie gave “the bulk” of his tips to Children’s Hospital.
A dedication to Lexie posted on the hospital’s website stated what made his donations “so awe-inspiring is that Mr. Lexie only earned about $10,000 a year.”
“He was very unique,” Mavrakis said. “Anyone else would worry about money or keep it for themselves and this guy gave it away.”
When he shined shoes at the hospital, he had a routine for which offices and departments he would stop in with his cart, Gessner said. Many office employees would be walking around shoeless because Lexie was shining them in the hall.
“People would know he was coming, so they’d bring in bags of shoes,” Gessner said. “He’s probably shined tens of thousands of shoes.”
Lexie was considered a hospital volunteer and his cart was kept in the volunteer department. It’s still at the hospital, along with lasting memories of Lexie’s generosity.
“He was always smiling and a real role model for people who want to give back to the community,” Gessner said. “He was a real ambassador for Children’s.”
A critical care physician at Children’s helped Lexie write a book about his shoe shining business, titled “Albert’s Kids, The Heroic Work of Shining Shoes for Sick Children.”
He’s won several awards throughout the years for his community service and was honored at a 2010 Major League Baseball game during an “All Stars Among Us” ceremony. He’s also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Jane Pauley Show and CBS Evening News, for the work he did at the hospital.
Gessner said he’s certain Lexie’s story, the work he did and the impact it made won’t soon be forgotten by anyone.
“He has left such a strong vibrant memory of giving, selflessness and happiness,” Gessner said. “He did it for so long and made so many friends that I think we will always remember Albert. He’s just such an inspiration for us all.”
Services for Lexie will be held at Rhome Funeral Home, 1209 Grand Blvd., Monessen. Visitation will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, followed by a service at 10:30 a.m. Friday.