Shoe entrepreneur takes a shine to teaching

Robert Williams, well-known in the downtown business community as a shoe shiner and repairman, is quitting in August to attend graduate school full-time to become a special education teacher.

It's another point in what his clients call the inspiring tale of a man who dropped out of high school and was a street vendor, hawking newspapers and shining shoes, for most of his life.

Williams, 52, came to Lexington a decade ago after completing a one-year shoe, boot and saddle program.

He went to work for a local company but then struck out on his own, cold-calling numerous law offices and other companies. Years later, he's amassed a dedicated client base that he estimates at 1,500.

"Robert is a one-of-a-kind hard-working entrepreneur," said Gil Johnson, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson's Lexington office. "He will be missed."

Williams said he felt "it's time to move on and do something else while I'm still able and healthy."

He links his education desires to time he spent volunteering at the Lexington Public Library's after-school homework tutoring program.

He graduated last year from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and plans to attend Kentucky State University to complete a master's degree in education with certification in learning behavior disorder.

"His story's inspiring to all of us because he works hard, and he's worked to better himself," said Clarke Keller, a partner at Stites & Harbison.

Williams' last day for picking up shoes for repair will be Aug. 7, and his last day of business will be Aug. 14.