In the clothing sorting area at the Poverello Thrift Store, “Uncle Al” has become a regular fixture, volunteering his time four mornings a week for well over a year now.
Most people at Poverello probably don’t even know that his last name is Gibson, or that his friends also call him “Alley Paley.” But the connotation that this man is either your “uncle” or your “pal” says a lot about his character.
Born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, and eventually settling in Seaford, Long Island, Al Gibson at 89 years of age is not even thinking about slowing down.
“No matter what ails you, you’ve got to keep moving,” he said while taking a break from his volunteer duties. And when he’s not volunteering at Poverello, Uncle Al is the day manager at LeBoy, a gay club in Fort Lauderdale.
In 1950, Uncle Al was drafted into the Army, serving for two years as a mess sergeant at Army bases in New Jersey, Georgia, Texas and California. But it was his service at Camp Desert Rock in Nevada that was the most memorable.
Believe it or not, Al and his company were ordered outside to witness firsthand (and at relatively close range) an above-ground test of an atomic bomb.
“It goes without saying,” he remarked, “that it was an experience I will never forget.”
After he got out of the Army, Al went to work in New York City for his father and mother at their office furniture and interior design business, S. Gibson and Son.
During this time, Al married and had two sons and a daughter — and now six grandchildren as well. But it wasn’t long before he went his own way, purchasing a competitor’s office furniture and interior design business in the garment district of Manhattan. His sons took over running the business when he retired to Florida in 1980.
When Uncle Al arrived, he purchased a condo in Fort Lauderdale, where he still lives today. At the time, his mother was living in Broward County, with other relatives in the area as well.
Al eventually took a job as a controller for American Excess, a company that bought and sold excess inventory. After leaving that position, and taking a much-needed break, he was at it again, this time taking a job as a bartender at the Fort Lauderdale gay club Johnny’s.
Before long, his involvement at Johnny’s grew to work in the office and as a club manager. It was at Johnny’s that Uncle Al first became acquainted with Poverello.
As part of his duties as a manager at the club, he would occasionally conduct auctions, raffles and car washes to benefit Poverello, raising a lot of cash for the charity.
A little over a year ago, after operating for more than 30 years at its two locations, Johnny’s closed its doors, opening the next day as LeBoy at its new location on 11th Street at the original Bill’s Filling Station location.
“Poverello is the greatest charity around,” Uncle Al remarked. “They do a world of good here, and they have a wonderful group of volunteers. I love working here and would do anything they asked me to do,” he added. “It’s part of what keeps me going.”
This article was written by James Stoup in 2018, who is a Poverello volunteer.