“If I can help somebody that needs it, I’m gonna help ‘em.”
Jim Ford isn’t your typical repo man, and he’s probably not someone you’d think of as a hero. But to many, he is.
As a teenager, Jim broke into cars. Now, he reclaims them to settle debts — often at great risk to himself. In his time as a repo man in St. Louis, he’s been shot at six times. But Jim remains unfazed: “I always say that my time doing stupid stuff was training for my future profession.”
He often sets out under the cover of darkness, which tends to lend him more time to make a safe exit before angry owners can confront him. It’s a job that might leave others feeling conflicted, but after 20 years of repo work, Jim has hardened to the task and tends to view it as an inevitability: “I’ll sit in front of your house and wait for you to leave,” he says. Eventually, “I’m gonna getcha.”
Some may call him callous. In truth, Jim has a big heart — just one that he usually saves for friends and family. But one day shortly before Thanksgiving in 2016, he got the call for a job that would turn his world upside down.
Jim drove out to the call site and saw a local cop on the street, so he pulled up to explain he was there on repo business. The policeman asked hopefully if his intended target was the nearby pick-up truck. Jim shook his head and told him it was a Buick. “Ahh man,” said the policeman. “That’s the elderly couple down there at the end.”
It was already 2AM, and the couple’s car was in the garage. Rather than knocking and waking them up, Jim decided to give them a temporary reprieve and drove home that night. The next morning, he called and asked the couple, Pat and Stan Kipping, to settle things with the bank and avoid repossession. That’s when Jim learned about their story.
Pat and Stan had not always been in debt. “I’m not a shirker,” says Pat. “If you owe something, I believe you should pay it.” Up until that point, they had made do. But with $2,800 left on their car payments, life suddenly threw Pat and Stan for a loop.
“All their prescription drug costs had gone through the roof,” says Jim. Suddenly, the books no longer balanced, and Pat and Stan’s financial situation quickly spiraled. “It was pretty rough,” says Pat. “We didn’t have money to pay our bills and the drug store.”
Jim realized that there was no way the Kippings could pay their debts in time. So he got in his truck, started the engine, and set out for their home to repossess their Buick.
Like usual, Jim expected to be met with resentment. Instead, Pat and Stan greeted him with open arms and invited him in for coffee. “How can you get mad?” says Pat. “It’s his job.” Quickly, the three became friends, but the time came for Jim to leave — with their car.
What Stan said next hit Jim like a punch to the gut: “Jim, you’re so good to us, buddy. If I ever win the lottery, I’m gonna split it with you.”
Jim hitched up the Buick and drove back to his lot. But he couldn’t stop thinking about the Kippings. He called his business partner and said, “What can we do? I can’t sleep. I want to pay off the car.”
That night, Jim started his GoFundMe, shared it with his friends, and fell asleep. By the time he woke up, his campaign had raised enough to not just release the Kippings’ car — but to pay it off entirely.
When Jim returned their car and shared the news, the Kippings were ecstatic. “She almost had a heart attack, I think,” Jim jokes with a smile. “I gave her the extra money that we raised, and she was so happy… It was a good day.”
“We found out that there is good people out there,” says Pat. “We called him our guardian angel.”
Jim and the Kippings remained good friends and continued to meet over cups of coffee. Then one day in April of 2017, Stan fell. Two days later, he passed away. Pat and Jim were heartbroken, but the blows didn’t stop there. It turned out that Stan’s emergency helicopter flight to the hospital and subsequent bills totaled around $25,000.
Again, Jim turned to his GoFundMe, and the community rallied around Pat to help her cope with the expenses amid her grief.
Now almost a year after Jim started the GoFundMe, he has raised over $20,000 for the Kippings. Donations continue to trickle in from supporters who stumble on the story of their unlikely friendship, and each dollar helps Pat pay her debts and continue to get by.
For his part, Jim hopes that what he has done to help the Kippings will inspire his two sons, just as his own father’s kindness inspired him. “My dad was always my hero. He had a big heart. When he passed, I felt like I needed to be a better person,” says Jim.
“I’m still trying to make him proud, even though he’s gone.”