Decades before today's pay-it-forward ethos got kick-started (20 years ago!) by the movie title of the same name, San Diego's Highwayman was pulling up behind stranded motorists and offering aid, free of charge.
In an unusual turn of events, Weller now finds himself asking for help, something he told NBC 7 he's not used to doing.
"Well, not for myself," Weller said "I've been reluctant to ask for myself. I didn't have any trouble asking in my mission for others, but for myself, it's very difficult. But I need some teeth."
In 1966, Tom Weller's car plowed into a snowbank in Illinois. When he asked the good Samaritan what the charge was, he was told to pass it on.
Weller spent the ensuing decades patrolling San Diego freeways in Beulah, his distinctive white '50s Ford station wagon (and a white ambulance he purchased after Beulah was in a freeway wreck), helping out for nearly 50 years and getting recognition for his good deeds along the way from People magazine, Reader's Digest, the Los Angeles Times and CBS News, whose iconic human-interest newsman Charles Kuralt profiled him back in '96, which is where and when Weller got his nickname, the San Diego Highwayman.
Weller did an extensive interview three years ago for the Wheels Not Heels Youtube vlog, during which listeners can easily detect the difficulty he was having speaking, a fact he confirmed Thursday by phone.
That same year, Weller had a stroke and was having trouble with his left side, which put an end to driving a loop of San Diego's roadways looking for stranded motorists.
Now 72 -- he'll be a year older on Christmas -- Weller needs some help himself of the dental variety. He has launched a GoFundMe in an effort to be able to pay for dental implants, since he's unable to wear his dentures anymore because his anchor tooth broke.
"It's been a difficult time 'cause I'm losing weight, losing confidence and am at my last resort, so to speak," Weller said.
Weller, who said he has lost nearly 20 pounds on a soft-food diet prepared by his wife, explained his situation in greater detail on the GoFundMe page.
"Some years back, I finally found a great dentist!" Weller wrote. "Over the ensuing years since, he had done the best he could for me, and had fashioned a full 'upper' plate and a partial lower denture that enabled me to eat -- but -- just before this 'COVID' situation began, an 'anchor tooth' for the lower denture broke, causing it to become useless. The remaining teeth were insufficient to retain the denture and so I have been without since."
Weller, in part, said the trouble with his teeth began when he was a teenager and had a "horrific experience with a dentist in Ocean Beach" and began to neglect his teeth. The El Cajon resident still remembers that day.
"I lived in Ocean Beach when I was a teenager," Weller said. "He was doing a root canal or whatever he was doing, and the procedure went past the time, the pain injection wore off, and I've never had such intense pain before or since."
The San Diego Highwayman's GoFundMe only launched on Thursday, so he's only started on his way to the goal of $50,000 -- the cost is so high because he's hoping to replace the single upper plate he has now with a mouthful of implants.
One donor who stopped to pay it forward left a note on the page before she left:
"This is a great man who has dedicated his life to helping others, never charging, and always with kindness and a smile. I wish times were better to contribute more. For the smile, and the man behind it, who has brought light to those in need."
The way Weller says it, it seems like he's needs are simple, despite the high price tag.
"I'd like to smile and speak clearly and enunciate my words, and maybe even be able to whistle again," Weller said with a laugh.