Tom McElroy noticed the silver-gray 1989 Nissan Maxima with 154,000 miles on it right away -- as soon as he moved to Guerneville about three months ago, he said.
Neighbor Justin Lacy, who owns Guerneville's Parcel Box Plus, hadn't driven the thing for two years.
"I saw it just sitting there," said McElroy, older brother of Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Mo McElroy who relocated to Sonoma County from Portland, Oregon. "The engine turned over, but it needed a battery -- and it had no brakes."
Happily, his neighbor Lacy "didn't have to be strong-armed" when McElroy approached him about donating the car to former Healdsburg schoolteacher Christine Webster, McElroy said.
Mo McElroy had told her brother about Webster, 44, a volunteer at the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and at the Raven Performing Arts Theater who is paralyzed on her right side from a stroke at age 40.
A light bulb went off for Tom McElroy, 65, who recovered himself from a stroke and open heart surgery in 2008. He said he saw a chance to help someone, "sort of like paying it forward, doing something without knowing the end result," he said.
For Webster, as the recipient of McElroy's effort, she said the "new" car will be a lifeline to her reemergence after more than three years of focused medical treatment.
"Having a car will help me look for work," Webster said. "I want to help other people -- but right now I don't know what that looks like exactly."
After the stroke, Webster underwent a three-year series of brain surgeries at Stanford University hospital to correct a malformation of her arteries and veins within the brain stem. The procedure worked well enough to correct the stroke-prone area and allow Webster to function, but she still has residual pain, she said.
"It's been four years since I drove a car," Webster said. "I had a VW Golf, but it was taken back by the dealership when I went into the hospital, because I had only made payments on it for two months."
After securing the Nissan from his neighbor, McElroy had the car towed to mechanic Andy Karkar in Monte Rio and then later to a mechanic in Sebastopol. After adding a new battery and brakes, McElroy presented Webster with a peek at her new wheels a few weeks ago. He then took the car back and added a power window motor -- and handicapped driving pedals and knobs now being installed by a Santa Rosa company.
"She told me she wants to pay me back," said McElroy, who spent more than $2,000 of his own money on the car rehab. "I told her she can pay me back when she gets a six-figure modeling contract -- she deserves a lot of attention because she's such an inspiration."
For her part, Webster, a tall, striking brunette with model-high cheekbones, said she hopes to do public speaking on stroke awareness and prevention and to act as a magnet for connecting those who need help with people who want to offer it.
"There are a lot of people who want to give, but they don't know who to give to," Webster said. "Sometimes if you just look in your own backyard, you can find the answer."
McElroy said although he originally heard about Webster's efforts to be of service and about her sunny nature from his sister, that didn't prepare him for meeting her in person.
"How could you not want to her her?" he said, gesturing at Webster, who seemed to radiate an inner glow during a recent visit at her Healdsburg home. "For a stranger like me, it just seems effortless."
He said he hopes a Healdsburg or Sonoma County car dealership will consider buying the rehabbed Nissan and replacing it with a real handicapped-equipped vehicle.
Webster said she wants to thank McElroy -- whom she calls a "nothing short of a modern-day Santa Claus" -- and everyone at the Chamber and in the community for helping her relaunch her life.
She said, for example, that Healdsburg Chamber staff member Angela Allen has already helped Webster obtain a new driver's license and registration; others have connected her with a disabled driver teacher, she said.
"It's ironic that I used to be a special ed teacher and now here I am disabled myself," Webster said in her easy, matter-of-fact way. "I want to be a source of hope, inspiration and faith, and to repay all the goodness and kindness that has been shown to me."
To offer help or information for Webster, leave a message at the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, 707-433-6935.