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Waco’s ‘goodwill ambassador’ gets a fitting final resting place thanks to those who admired him

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 6:41 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A legendary local shoeshine man who died from natural causes in May has a fitting final resting place thanks to the generosity of Central Texans who loved and admired him.

A headstone for Robert Pearson was erected this past week at Oakwood Cemetery in Waco. Pearson shined shoes for nearly 15 years at the Waco Regional Airport before moving to a bank lobby and the Magnolia Silos just before his unexpected death.

The headstone reads “Shoe Shine Man” and features a picture of Pearson surrounded by shoes he’d shined. The bottom reads “Waco’s Goodwill Ambassador.”

Pearson was declared dead twice on May 3 in a mix-up that led police to revise their policy on questionable death calls.

His funeral was held May 8, 2021, at Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas but he had no place to be buried.

Robert Pearson was loved and admired by those he met while working as a shoeshine man at the...
Robert Pearson was loved and admired by those he met while working as a shoeshine man at the Waco airport for 15 years. (Courtesy photo)(Courtesy photo)

Friends tell KWTX someone anonymously donated a plot for him at Oakwood Cemetery and then other friends got involved to make sure he had the proper marker.

Aimee Wood, daughter of Joe Phipps, Sr. who owns Phipps Memorial in Waco, says former Congressman Chet Edwards and local banking executive Sam Brown came to Phipps Memorial with a plan. Brown allowed Pearson to set up in his bank lobby after the City of Waco terminated his shoe shining contract at the airport.

Phipps, who owns Whispering Oaks Apartments where Pearson was a resident for 20 years, just wanted to donate it all because he remembered Pearson as a friend to all.

“My father Joe Phipps first met Robert Pearson over two decades ago,” Wood said. “Over those 20 years, Robert became a friend of our family, our employee and other residents.”

“When we learned of his passing, my father knew that he wanted to create a personalized memorial for him since he was such a beloved member of the Waco community.”

The marker took a little longer than the group expected as Phipps Memorial was working with Pearson’s brother in Arizona on the design, but suddenly lost communication.

They later learned from Brown that Pearson’s brother had also died.

The message on the back of the headstone at the gravesite for Robert Pearson.
The message on the back of the headstone at the gravesite for Robert Pearson.(Julie Hays)

Brown helped finish choosing the design for the back of the marker.

It reads “Yesterday is History. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today is a gift.”

Through research, Phipps Memorial also learned Robert’s mother, Oneta Tucker, born in 1915 and died in 1987, was buried in Doris Miller Memorial Park with no marker.

Phipps Memorial created her one. “We learned that his mother had never had a monument of her own, so we fabricated a monument for both Robert and his mother to make their final resting places,” Wood said.

The headstone for Oneta Tucker
The headstone for Oneta Tucker(The headstone for Oneta Tucker)

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