Paul Newman: his legacy

Every now again there lives a truly incredible human being. Today would have been the birthday of one of those rare kind of people. On January 26th 1925, Paul Newman was born in Ohio. He died from lung cancer on 26th September 2008, 5 years ago. Best known for his phenomenal acting talent, he was a huge Hollywood star – but there was so much more to Newman than just his exhilarating screen presence. He was also a film director, entrepreneur, humanitarian and, most of all, a true philanthropist. As if this wasn’t enough he was also a professional racing driver, just for good measure. Newman tried to better himself in everything he did. His paternal family were Jewish, and despite Newman having no religion as an adult, he described himself as a Jew, stating that “it’s more challenging”. Despite his celebrity, Paul Newman did everything possible to live his life as an ordinary person and derived the deepest satisfaction from his work in philanthropy.

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He was a rare individual amongst his Hollywood peers at the time, of whom most were staunchly republican (just look at Clint Eastwood’s recent political outbursts), and he even landed himself upon Richard Nixon’s Enemies List! True philanthropists are a rare breed. J K Rowling’s recent demotion from the Forbe’s billionares list (for giving so much money to charity!) comes to mind. Everything Newman did was in pursuit of the common good and of his philanthropic work he is perhaps best remembered for his ethical food company, Newman’s Own. The franchise, which originally sold salad dressing but has since expanded to pasta, pizza, wine and more, has donated more than $300 million to charities. These include awards to unique initiatives that improve quality of life for military families, and food distribution programmes for America’s poorest citizens. One of the other beneficiaries of Newman’s Own is another one of his visions – without doubt the most special of all his charity efforts. I’d like to tell you a little about my experience of a relatively unknown but truly magical part of Newman’s legacy – the SeriousFun Children’s Network of global camps for children affected by serious illnesses and their families.

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In 1988, Paul Newman had a little sparkle in his eye – he founded a camp for the seriously ill children of Connecticut. The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, named after the group from his movie blockbuster Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, served children affected by cancer and other serious illnesses. It was Paul’s vision that these children deserved the chance to bask in the joy of just being a child, and everything that Hole In The Wall did centred around this core belief. The camp was a phenomenal success and did more than anyone had ever imagined. Instead of just giving these children a short respite break, it had a profound impact upon them and their families. It allowed them to reach beyond illness to “kick back and raise a little hell”. As Paul said himself, “it’s not that these children say ‘Thanks for a wonderful time.”, it’s that they say “Thank you for changing my life.”.

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Since 1988, that sparkle in Newman’s eye has quietly grown into a worldwide network of camps, now known as the SeriousFun Children’s Network. Every new camp that was set up Paul would visit to make sure they met his rigorous standards of excellence and served the children in everything they did. When Newman visited another country to set up a camp there, many people would bid for the privilege of being granted worthy of his excellent cause. In the United Kingdom he set up Over The Wall camp and Barretstown in Ireland. Ive been lucky enough to volunteer with Over The Wall for five years now, having been to a total of nine camps for sick kids, their siblings, and our recent whole family camps. I’ve written previously about the magic of being at camp, as well as the journey a sibling goes through when their brother or sister gets diagnosed with a serious illness. It always has been and always will be a humbling experience being part of Newman’s mission and camp has made me the person I am today. It is part of everything I do and I am forever thankful for the truly awesome experiences I have had there. I understand now what Newman meant when he said “for everything I give the kids, I get back a hundred-fold”. One of my campers this year said to me “I’ll never be able to show you how thankful I am for everything you do for us campers”. I replied saying “you do in more ways than you will ever know; in everything you do and everything you achieve.”.

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There’s a million and one other stories I could tell about camp, some of which I’ll write about over the coming months before this year’s season of camps starts again. Until then, I’ll leave you with a paragraph from the SeriousFun website about the proven impact camp has on children affected by serious illness, because I really can’t put it any better myself. There’s a video message from Newman’s daughter, Clea, and a glimpse into the joy of Over The Wall’s sibling camp from last year.

Since 2010, the Yale School of Medicine has surveyed and interviewed hundreds of SeriousFun campers and their parents. Results of this ongoing study give scientific support to what our staff around the world have seen, heard and known for years. Our camps do more than just give kids a fun-filled, memorable week. They have a profound and long-lasting impact. By creating a place where children with serious illnesses can connect with others like themselves, along with carefully trained and caring adults, SeriousFun camps and programs enable kids to reach beyond the barriers of their conditions. This unique experience helps build important connections that foster resilience and support their growth in the face of challenge, restore their hope for the future, renew their spirit of childhood, and regain their sense of possibility. It’s not just fun. It’s SeriousFun.

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OTW Siblings 2012

Clea Newman’s Birthday Message

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One comment

  1. Kevin · March 6, 2013

    Nice piece Thom. I regret not being linked to OTW when he was still alive as I would have loved to have met him. We’re lucky however that his daughter Clea is now heavily involved with SeriousFun and I’ve been speaking with her the last couple of days and she’ll be great for us. She’s very close to Daphne who you’re going to see. I’ll catch up with you soon. Kevin.

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