The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is the only hospital in southwestern Pennsylvania dedicated to the care of infants and adolescents. It is generally considered to be one of the top children’s hospitals in the nation, too. Like most such university-affiliated hospitals, you’ll find an emergency room, research labs, and various different departments and specialties. You’ll also likely find a handful of other services and vendors, such as gift shops so one can buy a care package for a patient, a cafeteria for staff and visitors alike, and, until his retirement late last year, the shoe-shining station of Albert Lexie. For $5 plus an optional tip, Lexie would make your shoes look close to new.
And then he’d become a hero to the children in the hospital.
For more than 30 years, Lexie, now in his early 70s, commuted to the hospital twice a week. His 90-minute trek from his home thirty miles south of the city seemed excessive for a man who, ultimately, shined shoes, but he quickly became an institution unto himself. The shy, affable man showed his gratitude for the opportunity not only by showing up to the only job he ever held, but by doing something many of us would consider unfathomable. He donated all of his tips — all the money he made above and beyond the $5 shoe shine itself — to the hospital, to be used for children who cannot otherwise afford treatment.
Over his 30-plus year career, Lexie averaged a bit more than $10,000 in annual pay, before tips. His tips totaled over $200,000, constituting roughly one-third of his total compensation as a shoe-shiner, yet he donated every single dollar in tips to the hospital. He retired in December, 2013 and was honored by the hospital with a huge retirement party the following spring. (The image above is from that party.) And he’s gotten some national recognition, too. One example? The Foundation for a Better Life featured him in one of its billboards, seen here — and that was when he had “only” donated $100,000 in tips.
From the Archives: The First Photograph of a Person: It’s of someone getting his shoes shined.
Related: In 2012, the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh put together a biography of Albert Lexie; it’s hard to find but available here (but it’s not cheap, due to the rarity).