Without a complaint, Albert Lexie caught one bus, then another, from his home in Monessen to his twice-a-week job at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, shining shoes.
The trip took an hour and a half, but Mr. Lexie generally arrived by 7:30 a.m. or even a little earlier, then settled in to care for the footwear of the hospital's visitors and staff until it was time to catch two buses home in the afternoon. He enjoyed the hospital's energy, all the doctors and nurses helping children get well again, he said.
And although he didn't have a medical degree -- or, until 1999, even a high school diploma -- Mr. Lexie found a way to help those children, too, contributing more than one-third of his earnings to the hospital's Free Care Fund from 1981 until today, when he will celebrate his retirement.
"I wanted to see the kids get well, to see they got well and got better and things like that," said Mr. Lexie, 71, of why he decided to donate more than $200,000 to the care fund over the years. "I was pretty happy, you know. I made myself happy."
For hospital workers and officials of the fund, Mr. Lexie's donations to help the hospital pay for providing care to children whose parents cannot afford to pay, or who lack insurance, were welcome, according to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation president, Greg Barrett. But even more welcome was Mr. Lexie himself, "a truly selfless person in every way," he said.
"It's a great thing for the kids, it's a great thing for the community -- the money is great -- but the real gift is what Albert represents," Mr. Barrett said. "I know it sounds like a cliche, but he really does make other people better."
Mr. Lexie has his own chair near Mr. Barrett's office, where Mr. Barrett's assistant brings him a cup of coffee after he arrives for his shift Tuesdays and Thursdays. And while Mr. Lexie still shines three or four pairs of shoes during his visits, he also gets a chance to socialize with the many hospital workers who have come to love him.
"I look forward to seeing him when he comes in, just to chat and be with someone who's just a good person," Mr. Barrett said.
Mr. Lexie, who built himself a shoeshine box while in eighth-grade shop class at Monessen High School, left school after that year but was awarded an honorary diploma from Monessen High in 1999 because of his charitable contributions. In 2006, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans by the Caring Institute, and also has been recognized by People Magazine and Major League Baseball for his contributions.
In 2012, his biography, "Albert's Kids: The Heroic Work of Shining Shoes for Sick Children," was published by RoseDog Books and the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.
Mr. Lexie's departure will be a big loss for Children's, Mr. Barrett said. But he has more than earned his retirement, he said.
"He's been doing that exact bus trip for 30 years now," Mr. Barrett said. "He's ready for a rest."
And while Mr. Lexie doesn't have any grand plans for retirement, he's pretty sure Children's Hospital workers haven't seen the last of him.
He'll present his final check from shoeshines to the hospital on Thursday. In February, the hospital -- which received his notice just two or three weeks ago, Mr. Barrett said -- plans to throw him a bigger and better retirement party than this afternoon's celebration. In April, he'll likely attend the annual hospital party for volunteers. And next December, he'd like to help with raising money through the hospital's telethon.
What was that about his retirement plans?
"Just taking it easy," Mr. Lexie said. "But I'll probably come see Children's Hospital once in awhile and see my old friends."
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719.