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Donations Roll In For Detroit Man Who Walks 21 Miles To Work

James Robertson, 56, has been making headlines for walking more than 20 miles to and from work every weekday in Detroit.
Ryan Garza
Detroit Free Press/TNS/Landov
James Robertson, 56, has been making headlines for walking more than 20 miles to and from work every weekday in Detroit.

It took just one newspaper article to change James Robertson's life.

Last Sunday, the Detroit Free Press ran a front page story about the 56-year-old factory worker. It said every weekday for a decade, Robertson has left his house and walked more than 20 miles to and from his job in suburban Detroit. Robertson's car had broken down years before and so he made a long and lonely commute on foot in every kind of weather.

Those tough days appear to be over. The newspaper article on Robertson's plight generated a huge outpouring of help and donations from people across the country. An online GoFundMe account, set up by a Wayne State university student, has brought in more than $300,000. Today, Roberston is due to pick up a new Ford Taurus, a gift from a local car dealership.

But all this kindness and generosity worries Blake Pollack, a vice president of wealth management with UBS in the Detroit area. Pollack tells NPR he wants to make sure people don't take advantage of Robertson and his newfound wealth.

Pollack was instrumental in bringing Robertson's situation to the newspaper's attention. He says he began offering the factory worker a lift about a year and a half ago — just every once in awhile when he happened to see him walking to work. The two men talked a lot, and Pollack learned more about him. He says what struck him about Robertson was he always "100 percent positive," and he didn't think walking for hours to and from work was a big deal.

Pollack says he's excited that Robertson is getting what he calls well deserved recognition, but he's also concerned about his safety. He says he lives in "a horrible area" of town. He fears "there is a stupid person who will see James and think he has the $300,000 in his pocket."

Robertson's story has sparked much discussion on the internet. Most people find his story inspirational, and admire his discipline and will power to walk every day to and from a job that pays $10.55 an hour. Others have responded negatively, and question the veracity of Robertson's story.

Pollack has talked with the local police and the mayor's office about providing Robertson with security. Pollack says Robertson's employer — Schain Mold & Engineering in Rochester Hills — is also concerned about his safety. He's also organizing a team of community leaders, lawyers, accountants and investment specialists to help advise Robertson on how to handle his money.

One of Robertson's new costs will be car insurance. Detroit has some of the highest insurance costs in the country. Pollack says they got quotes from insurance companies for a 2015 Ford Taurus. They come in at $933 a month.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.