When most people think of Paul Newman, they recall those penetrating blue eyes. But hundreds of thousands of children with cancer and other diseases think of him as someone who has lovingly provided the opportunity for fresh air, green grass, and sunshine at his network of Hole in the Wall Gang Camps for seriously ill children.
Newman, who died in September at the age of 83, had a legendary film career -- 65 movies in 50 years and two Academy Awards – and the respect of his peers. But the Newman name will live as long in philanthropy as it will in cinema. Newman is nominated as one of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring People of the Year for a generous nature as deep as his famous blue eyes.
“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Newman once said to a reporter. “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”
The Hole in the Wall Gang Camps were founded in 1988 from some of the proceeds of Newman's Own, the actor's line of food products that he started with writer A.E. Hotchner. Newman's Own donates all proceeds after taxes to charity and has given away $250 million to date. There are now branches of the camp in Ireland, France, and Israel. Combined, they serve about 13,000 children every year. To date, more than 135,000 children from 39 countries have enjoyed the camps free of charge.
Personal tragedy inspired Newman and his wife, the actress Joanne Woodward, to give their money away. In 1978, Newman's 28-year-old son Scott died of a drug-related overdose, prompting the grieving actor to found the Scott Newman Center, which continues to work to prevent drug abuse.
Education was important to Newman, too, and he and Woodward were long-time donors to Kenyon College, where Newman studied. They recently gave $10 million to the Ohio school to establish a scholarship fund.
Newman also worked to inspire philanthropy in others. In 1999, he helped found the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which encourages corporate executives and other business leaders to expand their corporate giving. It now includes more than 175 members who work to develop community partnerships through their philanthropy.
Protecting freedom was also important to the Newmans. They co-sponsored a $25,000 award for First Amendment protection and donated $250,000 to aid Kosovo refugees.
When Newman died, all of his philanthropies lamented the loss of a profoundly generous humanitarian. The Newman's Own Foundation posted this quote from Newman, about why he gave so much to others:
"I wanted to acknowledge luck; the chance and benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, who might not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it."