An American man, James Robertson who for several years walks 21 miles to get to and from work can now breathe a sigh of relief.
James Robertson of Detroit
He’s getting a car: a shiny red, 2015 Ford Taurus. And it’s loaded.
New wheels aside, he’s also getting a new nickname tonight.
Robertson is ABC’s “Person of the Week.” The 56-year-old factory worker will be featured on “World News Tonight,” along with a college student who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on his behalf, and the man who discovered his story.
An ABC crew came to town Thursday and interviewed Robertson, along with 19-year-old Evan Leedy, the Wayne State University student who has raised $300,000-plus on his behalf after reading about Robertson in the Free Press; and banker Blake Pollock, the man who discovered Robertson while driving to work one day and then shared the commuter’s story with the Free Press.
The story has landed Robertson in the middle of a media frenzy, with interview requests from CBC, NBC, People magazine and radio stations galore.
“I think it’s a great story. And I think it’s kind of cool that someone else is telling it for me,” said Pollock, an investment manager of UBS in Troy who spent months telling friends and colleagues about Robertson, but no one would believe him.
Now, Robertson’s story is known worldwide.
“I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker in my life,” Pollock said. “I don’t really think I did anything all that amazing. I was curious.”
And his curiosity paid off.
After Robertson’s story about his 21-mile daily walk to and from work appeared in the Free Press on Sunday, a tsunami of support transpired.
Leedy started a GoFundMe drive for Robertson that has raised $300,000-plus from more than 11,400 donors in four days.
Then there’s the new car.
Suburban Ford of Sterling Heights is giving Robertson a fully loaded 2015 Ford Taurus to help him out.
The car gift
As dealership manager Jim Elder noted, getting his own employees to work on time is often difficult, and they live in the same town as the dealership. Then there’s Robertson, who lives miles from work and has never been late in a decade with a perfect attendance.
“There’s nobody who deserves it more than him,” Elder said.
Folks nationwide agree.
On the GoFundMe site donations have ranged from $1 to $100, with many leaving messages such as this one Thursday from Barb Knapp: “Ever since I read this story last Sunday morning in the Detroit Free Press I have not been able to stop thinking about what James Robertson has endured these last 10 years. My heart was broken and I was brought to tears,” Knapp wrote when she donated $50.
“This is the kind of guy America needs,” wrote Edward Klkotka, who donated $20. “Hardworking and dedicated. He has the type of character that every employer dreams about.”
Robertson started walking to work a decade ago after his aging Honda quit on him. His employer moved nine miles north from Madison Heights to Rochester Hills, and bus service was repeatedly cut back in metro Detroit, forcing him to walk longer and longer distances. Rochester Hills is one of numerous suburban communities that have opted out of the SMART bus program, so no fixed-route large buses run there, SMART officials said.
Robertson’s plight shed light on the situation many in metro Detroit face daily in getting to work in an auto-centric region that has pockets of extreme poverty and no cohesive transportation system.
Transportation and city officials have conceded more work needs to be done. “That story is heartbreaking and it’s not necessary,” said Michael Ford, the CEO of the Regional Transit Authority, which is trying to improve public transportation across metro Detroit. “There’s more that we can do.”
Shedding tears of joy at the turn around of things