At 75, it might not be appropriate to call Robert Pearson the comeback kid.
But in the course of a few short months, Pearson has gone from unemployment after getting kicked out his shoeshine stand job after 14 years at the Waco Regional Airport, to landing a new, more accessible slot at Extraco Bank to opening a satellite branch with Waco’s favorite power couple at Magnolia Market at the Silos.
Pearson became Waco’s unofficial goodwill ambassador during his years at the airport. Whether it was, as he says, “putting a glow on the toe” with his shines, helping travelers with bags, giving directions to Waco locations or just making new friends, Pearson was a welcoming fixture to both frequent travelers and his regular customers who drove out for a shoeshine.
“You pay for the shine but there’s no charge for the conversation” is his motto.
After a Tribune-Herald story about Pearson’s plight when the city of Waco canceled his vending contract at the airport and forced him out in September, Pearson was swamped with phone calls and visitors to his tiny North Waco apartment.
People wanted to know how they could help and they were mad at the city and airport management. A fund was set up to help with his expenses.
The next day, Chris Kincaid, an executive vice president at Extraco Banks, and Sam Brown, senior vice president, offered Pearson a free location for his shoeshine stand in the lobby of the bank at 1700 N. Valley Mills Drive.
Pearson met with the bankers and readily accepted their offer. However, two days later, Pearson said he got a call from Chip Gaines offering him space at the tourist mecca Magnolia Market at the Silos.
“That Monday morning after the first newspaper article, the bank reached out to me,” Pearson said. “I committed myself to Extraco Bank. I asked to give me some time to get situated because a man and his father were rebuilding my chair for me.
“On Wednesday, that was when Chip called me and offered me the opportunity there. But I couldn’t change horses in the middle of the stream. I told him I had already committed myself just two days before his phone call and I couldn’t change things around. I had to keep my word on that. I couldn’t do them like that.”
So Pearson went to work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the bank. He said his regular customers are glad they do not have to drive out to the airport to see him now, and he has made a lot of new friends and customers at the bank.
“It was the beginning of a wonderful new era for me,” Pearson said.
Brown said they love having Pearson at the bank and will support him any way they can.
“He is part of our Extraco family,” Brown said. “Our employees love working with him, and our customers love working with him. He quickly became part of the family here. He is just another Extraco person when he is within these four walls. There is a lot to learn from him. At 75, he has such life experience to share.”
Pearson said there is no sense not working on Saturdays when an opportunity presents itself. So starting last Saturday, Pearson took up Gaines’ offer and started work at a choice spot near the line of cash registers at Magnolia Market, where he can greet thousands of Magnolia maniacs who flock to the destination.
Before he started, Gaines called him over for a meeting, Pearson said. He and other Magnolia employees formed a circle around something large that was covered by a blanket. As Pearson approached, Gaines, known on his “Fixer Upper” TV show for the “big reveal,” whisked off the covering to display what Pearson describes as the Rolls Royce of shoeshine stands.
“It is out of sight,” Pearson said of the stand. “I don’t have the words to describe it. It is out of this world. When Chip took off that cover, I like to cried a moon river. I had more water in my eyes than Lake Waco has.”
Chip Gaines was not available for comment on this story, but Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano said Gaines and his wife, Joanna, are happy to play host to Pearson on Saturdays.
“It was important to Chip and Jo that Robert also had access to any additional tools or resources he may need to do the work he’s enjoyed doing for so many years, and we felt he may like a new stand to work from,” Marsicano said. “Robert has been a warm and familiar face around town for a very long time, and it’s really an honor for us to play even a small role in this next chapter for Robert.”