SAN DIEGO — The Ocean Beach community is remembering a long-time resident, known for his shoeshine shop and the kindness he shared with those around him.
Willie Washington was a part of that community for over 40 years and died on Saturday. He was also a veteran and former pro football player with the Raiders.
People in the community knew him as Shoeshine Willie and he spent a lot of his time in his shoeshine shack, serving his customers and becoming the unofficial Mayor of Ocean Beach.
"We just want to keep it clean. We just want to keep the riff-raff out," said Willie Washington, who spoke to CBS 8 back in 1987 for a story on the state of Ocean Beach.
He's now considered a town legend, an icon, someone who cared for the community in his own special way. Washington operated the old Shoeshine Shack on Newport Avenue since the 1970s.
"He was always out. He was always greeting everybody. Just an awesome positive guy. He got to know literally everyone and their kids and their dogs," said Anna Firicano, an Ocean Beach Town Council Board Member.
Washington also had so much support in the community, that residents came together twice to help him save his business. They raised money to replace the shack after a fire destroyed it and they made sure he met city regulations. Brian Firicano said he knew Washington well and tried to take care of him as his health deteriorated.
"We ended up leaving him a lot of food and he gave it mostly away to his neighbors who lived at the apartment complex over at the Aristocrat. Willie was a great guy and he was a big part of Ocean Beach and we're going to miss him a lot," said Brian Firicano, Ocean Beach resident and Anna's husband.
Shoeshine Willie was a proud businessman and veteran but as the pandemic raged on, he closed the Shoeshine Shack in November of last year.
"He was his usual sweet, self but he told us 'don't leave anything with me, I'm not going to be here very long.'" said Anna Firicano. "I was like 'Come on, really? You're going to be fine. We'll see you in the new year.' He was like, 'No baby, this is it. I'm not going to be here very long. I won't be here long enough to enjoy all these things you're trying to leave me.' So, you know, we said our goodbyes."
At Washington's request, there will not be a funeral service, but some community members are still collecting donations that will be given to local veteran charities in his honor.
WATCH RELATED: Profile on San Diego neighborhood Ocean Beach 1987