Paul Newman's Daughter Remembers His Philanthropic Efforts: 'Such a Heartfelt Passion'

Paul Newman's generosity lives on through many charities, including 30 camps and programs for children living with serious illnesses around the world

Paul Newman
Photo: Milton H. Greene

Screen legend. Oscar winner. Husband. Father. Humanitarian. Paul Newman had many unforgettable roles, but in the end, he considered his philanthropic work his greatest legacy.

Fourteen years after his death, a new posthumous memoir, Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, explores them all and reveals how he found fulfillment in his later years by launching the SeriousFun Children's Network, a family of camps and programs for children with life-threatening illnesses.

"He really wanted to make a difference and give back. He went very deep with the camps," says his daughter, Clea Newman. "We now have 30 camps and programs all over the world. Last year, we served 150,000 children and their families, all free of charge. It's an incredible thing that he started."

"He was so passionate about opening our first camp and then it just became part of his persona," adds Clea, the youngest of his three children with second wife Joanne Woodward. "All his extra free time was spent there, being with the kids, working to open up new camps, talking to families, talking to the kids. It was such a heartfelt passion."

Newman opened the first camp, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, in Ashford, Connecticut, back in 1988. It was the first of many launched by Newman and his Newman's Own Foundation. The foundation donates one hundred percent of profits from the sale of its products to help kids, and to date, has donated over $500 million to thousands of nonprofits worldwide, including Safe Water Network, which he also founded.

Hole In The Wall Camp Paul Newman cr. Courtesy Association of Hole in the Wall Camps contact: Marni>
Courtesy Association of Hole in the Wall Camps

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The business of doing good all began with a salad dressing back in 1982, when Paul and his friend, A. E. Hotchner, made a batch of vinaigrette as Christmas presents for their friends. When they kept returning for more, he got the idea that a simple dressing could make money for a good cause.

When he was told the products would sell better in supermarkets if he put his face on the label, Paul said, "Once we decided that's what we wanted to do, we decided we'd give the money away."

"We had no idea whether the business would be successful," he admitted. But he was always clear that 100 percent of the after-tax profits would go straight to charities and causes he believed in.

Clea says her father "couldn't bear the thought of any child being on a waitlist" for a camp, and was dedicated to ensuring his programs assisted as many as possible.

"He just felt like these children were missing out on their childhood and he wanted to give them a place to feel included and not feel isolated because of their illness," she explains.

Some of his happiest moments came when hanging out with kids at the SeriousFun camps, where he was recognized as the camp's founder — and not a movie star.

Paul Newman photographed for People magazine in Beverly Hills, California in 1980
Douglas Kirkland / Iconic Images

Shy and intensely private, he put those feelings aside when it came to helping the kids. "He went way out of his comfort zone to do things to help the camps," says Clea, including "performing and calling people to raise money."

"Dad used to say that the camps could only exist through the support of others, volunteers, medical professionals and donors. He said that the camps were only as strong as the community that surrounded them and would be a testimonial to the generosity of others," she explains.

"He really cared," Clea adds. "It wasn't something he just said. He did it without asking. No fanfare. He didn't want a thank you. That's just who he was."

"Both of my parents felt it was important to give back," she adds. "Me and my sisters learned that from an early age."

Paul's memoir, based on an oral history project he undertook with his close friend Stewart Stern, offers a rare glimpse at a man who kept fame at arm's length and was driven to do something good with all the attention.

According to his daughter Melissa Newman, "In one of the last really deep conversations I had, he said, 'I don't feel like I'm finished.' There was more he wanted to do with the camps and philanthropy."

She adds: "He wrote Op-Eds for the New York Times. He was such a humble guy. He was really proud of the camps. I think that is the purest manifestation of his legacy."

Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is out Tuesday, and available for preorder now.

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