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A 76-year-old Pennsylvania man whose tips from his one-man shoeshine business raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh died on Tuesday.
Albert Lexie, with his purple shoeshine push cart, was a beloved fixture for more than 30 years within the hospital's corridors, but his generosity became renowned across the nation and the public learned about his kindness through newspapers, magazines and television shows.
Lexie died of an undisclosed health condition, hospital officials said in a statement.
Twice a week — Tuesday and Thursday — Lexie rose long before the sun came up, catching multiple buses for an hour and a half trek from his home in Monessen to Pittsburgh, to get to work and be around what he called, "Albert's kids." From 1982 to 2013, he polished the shoes of doctors, executives and staff members in the building, charging anywhere from $2 to $5, all the while making small but constant donations to his favorite cause.
Over the years, Lexie's contributions added up. By the time he retired in December 2013, the hospital reported he had given $202,000 to the Free Care Fund, which provides financial assistance for under- and uninsured children.
"His kindness and generosity were and continue to be an inspiration for all of us," Christopher Gessner, president of the hospital, said in a statement.
"He represented the true spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy and the contributions he made to the hospital far exceeded the tips he donated," Gessner added.
That spirit was recognized and held up as an inspirational example on several occasions throughout the decades. In 2010, he was featured in People magazine for serving the community in extraordinary ways and honored by Major League Baseball during an "All Stars Among Us" ceremony. He also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Jane Pauley Show and CBS Evening News.
Former Monessen Mayor Louis Mavrakis, now 80, told NPR he knew Lexie "since he was kid" when the younger boy first began his one-man shoeshining business.
"He would shine shoes in town and hitchhike to Charleroi to shine shoes there," Mavrakis recalled of the young entrepreneur. He described Lexie as a selfless man who lived a modest existence.
"He never drove an automobile. Never had any luxuries. He either walked, hitchhiked or caught the bus wherever he worked and he did that until he stopped shining shoes. The whole time he just gave everything away."
"You got to shine a lot of shoes to make a couple hundred thousand dollars," Mavrakis said laughing. "That just goes to show how frugal he was to amass that amount of money."
In addition to fundraising for the children's hospital, Mavrakis said Lexie "rang the bell" for the Salvation Army every year at Christmas time — a service for which he was honored by Mavrakis four years ago.
"You probably won't find anybody else like him — one of a kind!" Mavrakis said.
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