DETROIT — There are tiring commutes. And then there’s James Robertson’s commute. The 56-year-old Detroit man walks 21 miles every weekday as part of his journey to and from the factory where he works. Robertson takes the bus some of the way, according to the Detroit Free Press, which brought Robertson’s herculean daily hike to public attention over the weekend. But for the past decade, ever since his car broke down, he has trudged the better part of a marathon each workday. Rain, snow or shine. That could be about to change.
After reading the Detroit Free Press article, some people felt moved to set up online fundraising efforts to buy Robertson a new car. The donations have come flooding in. A fundraiser on GoFundMe has blown past its original goal of $5,000, reaching a total of more than $200,000, as of Tuesday.
‘A true American hero’
Comments on the page from people donating money suggested that the story of Robertson’s dedication to getting to work had tapped into a deep well of public feeling.
“Thank you for inspiring me and hopefully tons of other people to persevere in the face of adversity,” said a contributor by the name of Kevin LeMelle. “You are a true American hero.”
“We could use more men like James Robertson in this world,” wrote a donor named Betty Blanchard.
The Detroit Free Press reported that Robertson had been surprised and flattered by the generosity of strangers.
“Are you serious?” he reportedly responded Sunday evening when the newspaper told him that $30,000 had already been raised.
Evan Leedy, the 19-year-old who set up the fundraising page, said the effort had “skyrocketed into more than just a car.”
“Every penny will help James in any way that he needs it,” Leedy wrote on the page. He said he was talking with the founders of two other GoFundMe pages for Robertson in order to pool all the money raised.
‘I set our attendance standard by this man’
The Detroit Free Press profile of Robertson portrays him as a quiet man with a work ethic that would put anyone to shame.
“I set our attendance standard by this man,” Todd Wilson, plant manager at the engineering factory, told the newspaper. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”
Robertson apparently has perfect attendance record. He earns $10.55 an hour — not enough to save up to buy, insure and run a car in the city, according to the newspaper. He’s been making the arduous 23-mile journey from Detroit to Rochester Hills since his 1988 Honda Accord gave up on him.
“I sleep a lot on the weekend, yes I do,” he told the Detroit Free Press, which said he also snoozes during the bus rides in his commute.
It’s all to make sure he has the strength to get to the factory and back.
“I can’t imagine not working,” Robertson said.