“James worked at Chrysler for over 20 years painting cars,” said Tamika Carter, Willingham’s fiancée and mother of three of his children, ages 15, 7 and 2.
“When his brother died in 2003, he got so depressed he went on medical and never went back. Instead, he became a stay at home dad, so that I could go to school and work. He took his skills from the plant and worked on cars for friends. He replaced a whole engine for one of our neighbors, and only charged her $100. He went to help a co-worker of mine at 1:30 a.m. when her car broke down, and replaced a starter belt for only $30.”
Carter said Willingham looked after every one of his children. She said he was extremely proud of two of his older children who are in college. One of those children exhibited his art frequently in Birmingham, and Carter said her fiancée attended every one of those art fairs.
She said that ironically, he recently saved a young Brownstown man’s life.
“A car sideswiped James, and he followed the car for about five miles,” said Carter. “It turned out they had kidnapped a 19-year-old, beat him with a bat, put him in the trunk of the car, and were about to shoot him when James pulled up and saved him. He was a man who never said no.”