Simmie Hinton was a master of the art of casual conversation.
Hinton chatted up thousands of folks during his 28 years as a Metro Transit bus driver and then as a shoeshine attendant at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Believing that a little soothing chatter could even help his south Minneapolis garden grow, Hinton liked to chat to himself as he tended his plants.
"He was a very nice guy, very talkative and very friendly. That's what made him so good at his jobs," said his wife, Marsha.
Hinton died on Dec. 13 after apparently suffering a heart attack following a prolonged period of health problems, his wife said. He was 86.
Hinton was born in Richton, Miss., to Louis and Gracie Hinton, both of them farmers.
"They were not a people of means, but he would always tell me they had food and shared with other people," Marsha Hinton said.
Hinton helped support his family at a young age, working as a tanker driver and then painting cars — a job he did without a mask or safety gear, resulting in health problems that would last a lifetime.
Eager for a better life, he moved to Minneapolis in the '60s.
"There were not a lot of opportunities for good-paying jobs [in Mississippi]. He had a cousin who lived up here and encouraged him to come," Marsha Hinton said.
Hinton was a maintenance supervisor at a nursing home in 1970 when he met Marsha, then working as a nurse's aide. She recalled that he was friendly and outgoing.
"Things just clicked," she said.
They married in 1976, the same year that he started working for Metro Transit.
"It certainly was helpful to us. It was good pay," she said. "He liked the work and he liked the people, too. That was important to him."
Hinton drove bus routes on Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul during his three-decade career behind the wheel, often pulling overtime shifts so his wife could stay home and raise their children. He was proud of them, his wife said.
"They all graduated from college. They've all got successful careers. I like to brag on them. They are just really good kids," Marsha Hinton said.
Hinton retired from Metro Transit at age 72. In addition to vegetable gardening, he liked to bowl and fish.
But he decided that sitting at home didn't suit him. So he got a part-time job shining shoes, something he'd done as a young man in Mississippi.
"Again, it was an appealing job. He said to me, 'It's fascinating. I get to talk to people from all over the world,' " Marsha Hinton said.
One blogger who crossed paths with Hinton at the airport early one summer morning in 2014 described their pleasant back-and-forth during a shoe shine.
"Thanks for sharing your story with me, Simmie. You made a ten-minute shoeshine turn into a chance to connect with another person. For that, I am grateful," wrote Joel Gaslin.
Even after Hinton quit that job early in 2017 due to health concerns, he talked about returning to work. "He was itching to get back," Marsha Hinton said.
Besides his wife, Hinton is survived by daughters Melissa and Vanessa, both of Minneapolis; Kimberly Hunn of Woodbury; Michelle Carter of Richton, Miss.; Gwendolyn Townsend of Lithonia, Ga.; and Simmetha Miller of Toomsuba, Miss.; a son, Mitchell, of Winnemucca, Nev.; and 14 grandchildren.
Services have been held.