WASHINGTON -- During the past two decades, Albert Lexie has earned $113,000 in tips while shining shoes across the Mon Valley and at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. He has given every cent to the hospital's Free Care Fund.John Beale, Post-Gazette
Albert Lexie, 63, shines shoes for physicians at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. He was among 13 people -- including baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. and the Rev. Billy Graham -- who last night received 2006 National Caring Awards at a ceremony in Baltimore.
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Yesterday, the Monessen man's record of philanthropy won him a spot in the national Hall of Fame for Caring Americans. It also earned his own shoes a quick shine.
At a press event in the Frederick Douglass Museum in Washington, a bemused Mr. Lexie sat and watched as another inductee, 17-year-old Clayton Lillard of San Antonio, Texas, rubbed a white cloth over his black dress shoes.
"That was the first time," Mr. Lexie said. "It was a little surprise."
Mr. Lillard, who started a program that collects used bicycles, said he was honored to clean Mr. Lexie's shoes.
They're both among 13 people -- including baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Rev. Billy Graham -- who last night received prestigious 2006 National Caring Awards at a ceremony in the Baltimore Convention Center. The awards are presented each year by the Caring Institute, a Washington-based group that promotes exceptional cases of charity and volunteer work.
Alongside the other impressive recipients, Mr. Lexie's work still stands out, according to Richard Brennan, the institute's director.
"I've never met anyone who is so giving," he said as he introduced Mr. Lexie, 63, to the press yesterday morning.
As a teenager, he built himself a shine box in wood shop. He now lugs his box to businesses in Monessen, Charleroi, Donora and Monongahela and Salomon Smith Barney in Pittsburgh.
In the early 1980s, a telethon inspired him to start giving his tips to Children's Hospital.
The hospital's free care fund helps cover some of the costs of millions of dollars in annual medical care for families from the Pittsburgh area that can't afford to pay, said Marc Lukasiak, a spokesman.
The sight of sick children has motivated Mr. Lexie enough to keep giving, even though he only earns about $10,000 a year on top of tips. He's renamed the fund "Albert's Kids."
Mr. Lexie has become a fixture at the hospital, where he works every Tuesday and Thursday, charging $3 for a shine as he totes his equipment to administrative offices. He tries to visit children at least once a month.
"He shines my shoes every Thursday, quite faithfully," said Dr. Steven G. Docimo, the hospital's chief of pediatric urology, who attended yesterday's ceremony. "I give him a pretty good tip, and I know right where it's going."
Mr. Lexie lives alone, but he is close with his sister's family. His niece, Stephanie Davis of New Eagle, Washington County, also accompanied him to Washington.
She said the family helps him with his own financial needs, enabling him to keep up his charitable work.
That work has won Mr. Lexie seemingly endless public recognition. He has received the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and a 1997 Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Citizens. In 1999, Monessen celebrated "Albert Lexie Day." The Port Authority has awarded him a lifetime bus pass and he has been featured in Reader's Digest, People magazine and on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Three years ago, Children's Hospital officials marked Mr. Lexie's 61st birthday by giving him a custom-built shoeshine kit on wheels. In March, the hospital honored him with a plaque.
Shortly after that, Mr. Lexie first learned that he was being considered for an award from the Caring Institute, an organization founded two decades ago by Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
Mr. Lexie's picture will hang on the walls of a building that the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans shares with the Frederick Douglass Museum.
"I am very, very happy," Mr. Lexie said. "I'd like to say that I love my kids."
Jerome L. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com or 202-488-3479.