Man makes his windfall another's blessing

Thursday, October 29, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

James Fox
James Fox couldn't believe his eyes when he saw his bank statement. There, as bold as you please, was $44,004 he knew he didn't have. "I thought the bank had made a cruel mistake."

Mr. Fox, 90, thought it was worth the effort to visit the bank in person. "I've been going there for years," he says, "and the teller knows me real well." They shook their heads and agreed. It must be a mistake.

She checked his account and found that the deposit had been made by the U.S. Government, the Social Security Administration to be exact. Besides his monthly check, which is deposited directly by the agency, there was this other one. For $44,004.

"Maybe they've got me mixed up with somebody else," he told the woman at his bank.

He went home and called the Social Security office. He got a "very nice lady." She put him on hold. For a long time. Then she came back, apologized. And put him on hold again. For a longer time.

He waited.

A big, old mistake

When she came back, she told him that it was a mistake all right. But it had been made in 1974 by some clerk at the Social Security Administration. They had been underpaying him for 24 years. The error had been found during a random audit.

"Sir," she said, "it's your money."

It couldn't hurt to double check, he told himself. "I sure didn't want to spend it, then have them say I had to give it back." So, the next day, he called the number again, getting another clerk. She was not, shall we say, as thorough as the first one.

She told him that it was most certainly a mistake and that he should immediately write a check for $44,004 to the Social Security Administration.

"Couldn't you just make sure?" Mr. Fox asked politely. He spent a little more time on hold. Flustered, the clerk got back on the phone and confirmed what he'd been told the day before.

A couple of days later, he got an official letter. The money belonged to him.

He knew exactly what he was going to do with it. He had been hoping to win the lottery -- the big one, the Powerball. He even prayed about it, but not for himself.

His 95-year-old cousin could use some help. In his opinion, she shouldn't be living on her own anymore. She needs, he says, to be in a nursing home but can't afford one.

Now she can.

The candy man

James Fox says he has most everything he needs. He lives in a comfortable retirement village, has seven kids, is surrounded by beautiful watercolors painted by his late wife, Rose Ann. A little stooped by age, he can straighten up after he walks around a bit.

He worked for decades to get what he has. After he lost his job as a lithographer during the Depression, he started selling candy out of his car to mom and pop stores in Corryville, east of Vine. He worked seven days a week. Then he served in the Air Force during World War II and had to start all over again when he got home.

Are you up-to-here with election campaign smears? Have you just about had your fill of sleaze? Would you like some relief from all the bad stuff? Crime, violence, greed? Me too.

I thought you might like to hear some good news, even if it happened to somebody else. James Fox. He got a great big windfall from a most unexpected source.

Then he gave it to somebody else.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.