Despite a series of misfortunes, Robbie Whitfill of Decatur has found a way to surpass the odds.
The 60-year-old mechanic from Plainview moved to Wise County in 1976 to help a friend in his business of painting airplanes.
“It got to be too much,” Whitfill said. “It was too much work, and it’s not good for your health. When you start having out-of-body experiences, you know it’s not good for you, and you should stop.”
Whitfill became a mechanic, working at Roy Peyton’s Chevrolet dealership and in alignment at Western Auto.
After the latter company’s foreclosure, Whitfill decided to pursue his own business venture with little more than the desire to find a means for making a living.
“I opened my shop, Robbie’s, down on (Farm Road) 51 South, in March of 1989,” he said. “I poured my own cement and built the shop myself in six months. I had no money, so I charged everything. But you know, I was able to pay (the debt) off the first year the shop opened.”
A few years after the shop’s opening, Whitfill was in a motorcycle accident that confined him to a hospital for five days – three of those in intensive care – with lacerations to the head and knee.
“It put a damper on everything else,” he said. “The focus was on me and my recovery, but it really hurt everything else, especially my work at the shop.”
Within months, he was back at the grind.
“What else are you going to do?” he said. “You have to survive.”
Almost as soon as he got back on his feet, Whitfill was knocked back down when the shop burned in 2004.
“I lost everything,” he said. “So again, with the very little that I had, I built the shop back up. It’s still not completely rebuilt though. With the doors I put up in December, the shop is about 75 percent repaired.”
In addition to these events and two failed marriages, Whitfill became plagued with the effects of aging.
“I don’t do things the way I used to do them,” he said. “Things don’t work like they used to. I can’t lift like I used to. I can’t move around like I used to. Apparently I’m busted up enough.”
Consequently, he chose to turn the shop over to longtime employee, Howie McLane.
“It was time,” Whitfill said. “And Howie knows what he is doing. I do clean up and help however I can, and I still own everything. He does the mechanic work.”
Whenever he’s not helping in the shop, Whitfill keeps busy in his garden, tending to his chickens, riding his bicycle and caring for his medical needs.
“I’m just trying to survive from one day to the next, like I have,” he said. “What else are you going to do?”