Eric's Heroes: Leon McLaughlin, the shoe-shine guy

SEATTLE -- Curiosity. Drive. Compassion. Inspiration. They are the recipe for greatness. And Heroes.

Tonight’s Eric’s Heroes installment, is the story of Leon McLaughlin.

For 25 years he has run a shoe-shine stand. He works on the 2nd floor of the Columbia Tower.

And as he shines shoes for lawyers, politicians, and city employees, he asks questions. And learns.

Having traveled to some poor countries, he became interested in the lack of clean water that plagues the world.

So he asked city and county waterworks engineers about water purification, as he shined their shoes.

Then, he took an on-line course at Sacramento State and got a degree in Water Management.

He asked himself, “What if there was a portable water purification system that didn’t need electricity, didn’t need complicated set-up, asnd could be sent anywhere in the world? How many lives could be saved?”

So, with the help of the people whose shoes he shined, he built one. And then another.

He founded a non-profit called, “The Clean Water Foundation”.

Today, Leon’s portable, solar-powered water purification systems are being sent all over the world to where water is bad. Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Africa. The shoe-shiner from the 2nd floor of the Columbia Tower is saving lives, chipping into the unfathomable statistic of 2,200 children dying every day because of water-borne illnesses.


Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to

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