Shining star Albert Lexie ends long career
Albert Lexie's overwhelming generosity and philanthropy had humble beginnings on New Year's Eve 1981.
The Monessen man was shining shoes for employees and others at Monongahela Valley Hospital in Carroll Township when then-President and CEO Anthony M. Lombardi offered to take him to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“Mr. Lombardi said, ‘Would you like to see the kids?' I said, ‘Yes,'” Lexie recalled.
Lombardi introduced Lexie to Harold Leubs, CEO of Children's. Over lunch in the hospital cafeteria, Leubs posed a question to Lexie.
“Harold said, ‘How would you like to shine shoes down here?” Lombardi recalled. “When he heard that, Albert's smile would have melted the frigid weather.”
In nearly 32 years since, Lexie has donated all the tips from his shoe-shining business to the Free Care Fund at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. That total has exceeded $202,000.
Lexie retired Tuesday, although he will return to the hospital Thursday to donate the last of the tips during the Children's Free Care Fund Telethon. The show is scheduled to be telecast 6 p.m. on KDKA.
“He's got such a tremendous heart and is tremendous for those kids,” Lombardi said of Lexie. “Once he got started, I knew he would do it for as long as he could.”
Lombardi described Lexie in glowing terms.
“He is a hero in every way,” Lombardi said. “We don't have heroes to look up to. Who are the true heroes?
“If I was a young parent today, I would like my children to look up to him.”
Lexie started shining shoes in 1957 as a teen growing up in Monessen. His first modest shoeshine box was built in a shop class at Monessen High School.
For his birthday in August 2003, Children's gave him a metal cart designed to help carry the 30-pound box.
Lexie said donating his tips to Children's just made sense.
“It's a good organization that helps the sick children at Children's Hospital,” Lexie said.
“It's nice to see the people here all of the time and see your friends and talk to my friends.”
Lexie's efforts have been lauded over the years.
In 2010, Lexie was chosen to represent Pittsburgh in “People” magazine's 2010 “All-Stars Among Us” national campaign, which recognized individuals who were serving their communities in extraordinary ways.
One all-star was chosen from each of 30 Major League Baseball cities. Lexie and the others attended the 2010 All-Star Week in Anaheim, Calif., where they were honored during a pregame ceremony.
That same year, Lexie was among more than 50 people featured on billboards nationwide erected by Values.com.
He shared the honor with such noted figures as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Kermit the Frog. The billboards were created by The Foundation for a Better Life.
Lexie appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Aug. 24, 2000. The segment touched on his appearance on the Fox Television show “Courage.”
“Courage” host Danny Glover was asked by Winfrey to choose two of his favorite guests and Lexie was selected.
On Jan. 14, 2005, The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather featured a piece about Lexie titled “Shining Example.”
He also has been featured on countless other television and radio broadcasts.
Lexie is featured in a chapter of John Kasich's book, “Courage is Contagious.”
And Lexie received one of the Outstanding Philanthropist Awards for 2001 presented by the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Executives.
In 2006, Children's Hospital honored Lexie.
Dr. Joe Carcillo met Lexie in 1992, shortly after the critical care physician arrived at Children's.
Lexie approached Carcillo and offered to shine his shoes. As he did with all new customers, Lexie explained that he donated his tips to Children's.
“I think he's a great guy,” Carcillo said. “He's one of a kind. I don't have any role models but Albert. He only thinks about Albert's kids.”
Lexie modeled himself after Jerry Lewis, the film comedian who for 44 years hosted a national telethon for muscular dystrophy, Carcillo said.
Carcillo estimated Lexie has given “a third of his lifelong salary to help people.”
Lexie is always thinking of ways to raise money for the children.
Lexie handed out “little bags of surprises” to the biggest tippers. And he kept a black book in which he recorded the names of his best customers, making a point of stopping to see them on a regular basis.
And he motivated others to follow in his footsteps. A little girl Carcillo knew only as Gracie held a garage sale to raise money for Albert's Kids. Soon children and their families around Pittsburgh began holding garage sales and bake sales to benefit the cause.
“People admire Albert and emulate him,” Carcillo said.
“Albert's a hero because he devotes all of his life to give to people less fortunate than him. Any time you're with him, it's always heartwarming.”
Lexie said he plans to “take it easy” in retirement, spending more time in Monessen. Lombardi made note of the many miles Lexie has walked, even in the dead of winter, never missing a heartbeat in pursuit of helping Children's Hospital.
“If anyone deserves a retirement, its Albert Lexie,” Lombardi said.
Carcillo said Lexie will be missed at Children's.
“I'll miss him terribly,” Carcillo said. “His retirement will leave a big hole here.
“Everybody looks forward to him visiting. He's the spirit of the hospital.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or email@example.com.