We all live somewhere; whether it be a town, village, or city; urban or rural, small town or giant metropolis. What makes it home though is a sense of community. Men like Rufus Pinkney are what makes a community.
You don’t know who Rufus Pinkney was? Well you must not have lived in DeLand, Florida at any time for the past sixty odd years. Rufus was an institution in the downtown area. Even if you didn’t know his name you knew who he was. He was a local legend. Was he a sports star? Was he a political figure or a prominent banker or lawyer? No. Mr. Pinkney shined shoes. That’s right. He shined shoes and he was a more beloved representative of small town community than any sports star could be.
Rufus was born June 12, 1932 in Palatka to parents Pearl and Rufus Pinkney. As a child the family moved to Miami before Rufus left south Florida, ending up in Mississippi where he met his future wife, Mary Louise Gray. Rufus and Mary had two children; a daughter Sharon and a son, also named Rufus.
Pinkney operated his shoe shine business out of a small building located in the parking lot near 127 E. New York Avenue. Here, according to a Daytona Beach News-Journal article “…is a jumble of polishes, brushes, calendars, shelves of gleaming shoes, and more signs. One praises him as the “Master Engineer in Charge of Preserving the Primary Means of Personal Locomotion,’ and a bulletin board [was] thickly thumbtacked with business cards.” His shop was most recently adorned with a sign painted by Stephen Danko showing an alligator shoe with the words “Shoes Shined by Rufus”. Mark Lane of the News-Journal reports that Pinkney had shined shoes in Deland since 1955 and before that in St. Augustine at the old railroad station.
In addition to his skill at shining shoes, Rufus was a well-known local harmonica player and received the gift of being a great conversationalist. He was an elder at Greater Refuge Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When you saw him he was always dressed well and of course his shoes were never scuffed.
Rufus passed away September 12, 2016 after suffering a stroke. In his 84 years though he touched many lives. Personally, I can remember Rufus from back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s when I worked in downtown DeLand. He used to always stop in for his daily coffee. Sometimes more than once a day would we see him. He never really lingered long though he was always pleasant and had a smile and kind word for everyone. He couldn’t linger because he was busy. He had to get back to the shop and take care of business.
Recently the City of DeLand unveiled a mural in Mr. Pinkey’s honor near where his popular shoe shine stand used to be. It is only fitting that he be remembered in this way. Please read more about the mural unveiling and see several photos here.