Gilbert died Sunday after a bout with cancer. He was 81 and had lived in Germantown since 1954, when he and his family were the first blacks on Morton Street.
He continued to go to the shop until July. Two of his sons, Gilbert Fuller Jr. and Tyrone Fuller, and his daughter Michelle Fuller plan to continue the business. Michelle said her father epitomized the lyrics of a recent song as a "man who is gracious and good."
"He was a mentor to all he came across," she said. "Anybody - from all walks of life - could sit down and have a conversation with him and walk away feeling that he was their friend."
"Troubled people would go to him, and they always felt welcome. He would help you in any way he could."
Gilbert was born in Philadelphia to Joseph Fuller Sr. and Mercedes Fuller. He grew up in the Yorktown section of North Philadelphia where he began shining shoes on the street at the age of 8, taught by his father. It was there that he learned to love the work.
Gilbert attended Benjamin Franklin High School and went to work at the Frankford Arsenal after graduation. He took the Civil Service exam and worked in security at the Free Library.
He then became a corrections officer at Holmesburg Prison and later a field inspector in the Licenses & Inspections Department. He retired in 1988 after 30 years with the city.
Along the way, he studied cosmetology and opened a number of hair salons in Germantown.
Gilbert did some traveling, but his main focus was always his work, his family said.
"He worked all the time," said his daughter Barbara Fuller. "That was his fun.
"He would encourage others - 'Go to school,' 'You can do it.' He was very reachable. You could always turn to my dad. He was the image of a real man."
A devoted jazz fan, Gilbert treated his customers to John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis as their shoes were addressed.
He lamented the steady decline in the shoe-shine business over the years. Asked for the cause, he once replied, "Timberlands and sneakers."
He and his wife, the former Phyllis Brooks, were married for 63 years.
Besides his wife, two daughters and two sons, he is survived by three other sons, Eric, Enoch and Terrance Fuller; a brother, the Rev. Joseph Fuller; a sister, Delores Crawford, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter Beverly.
Services: 10 a.m. Saturday at New Joy Baptist Church, 2314 W. Allegheny Ave. Friends may call at 8:30 a.m. Burial will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery.
Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 oremail email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnfmorrison.