Make a difference, one smile at a time’: How Paul Newman’s daughter carries on his legacy

Beloved actor and philanthropist Paul Newman died on Sep. 26, 2008. Six years after his passing, his daughter Clea reflects on his legacy, and shares how she honors her father and continues his work.

My father, Paul Newman, is remembered for many things — he was a legendary actor, a professional race car driver, and an entrepreneur. But it was his role as a philanthropist that created a legacy that continues to change lives even after his passing, including my own.

Paul Newman, who passed away on Sept. 26, 2008, leaves behind not only an epic film career but a long philanthropic legacy.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Paul Newman, who passed away on Sept. 26, 2008, leaves behind not only an epic film career but a long philanthropic legacy.

Growing up, my parents always impressed on us the importance of giving back. One of the common themes in our household was, “If you’re feeling sad, the best thing you can do is to do something nice for someone else.” What’s more, they exemplified this message with their actions.

Clea Newman with her dad, Paul Newman.

Bigler Productions
Clea with her dad.

In 1988, my father recognized that seriously ill children had few opportunities to just be kids — to laugh, play, make friends, and try new things.

“The need is great, and so are the opportunities to make a difference, one smile at a time,” he said. He decided to create a camp for these children so they could experience the same joys that my siblings and I had growing up.

Dad had lots of favorite things to do at camp, but fishing was on the top of the list. I remember how excited he would be to head off to the docks with a group of kids. He’d help them bait their hooks and teach them to safely cast. He loved to see their smiles when they caught a fish. And as was (and still is) camp tradition, once you caught a fish, you gave it a kiss and released it back into the lake. He loved that.

Dad was a lucky guy, except when it came to fishing. The kids would catch fish after fish; Dad rarely caught a thing.

He acknowledged luck as one of his reasons for starting camps. He said, “I wanted, I think, to acknowledge luck; the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.”

He had a remarkable way with words.

Clea Newman with her parents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, at the Nobody's Fool premiere in New York City.

Courtesy of Bigler Productions
Clea Newman with her parents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, at the Nobody’s Fool premiere in New York City.

News of camp quickly spread, and soon a host of other big-hearted individuals were inspired to found new camps.

Clea Newman carries on her dad's legacy with a group of kids from SeriousFun.

Bigler Productions
Clea Newman carries on her dad’s legacy with a group of kids from SeriousFun.

These camps have since evolved into SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global network of 30 camps and programs that benefit children with serious illnesses and their families, always free of charge. To date, we have served more than 518,000 children and their families around the world.

Clea and the kids from SeriousFun.

Bigler Productions
Clea with kids from a SeriousFun camp.

My dad’s legacy includes a family grateful for his love and support, and a library of remarkable films that will resonate with audiences for years to come.

Paul Newman with nine year old daughter Clea Newman, ca. 1975

Everett Collection / Everett Col
Paul Newman with 9-year-old daughter Clea in 1975.

But it is the extraordinary impact of his philanthropic efforts — responding to unmet needs; providing hope, joy and inspiration; and working to better communities — that is the heart of his legacy, and what I believe is his greatest imprint on our world.

When my father started Newman’s Own in 1982, with a commitment to give all the company’s profits to charity, people thought he was crazy. But with the support, dedication and hard work of friends and colleagues, my father’s salad dressing became a symbol of helping others.

Dad’s example and influence inspired other companies to advance efforts in corporate social responsibility. To date, Newman’s Own Foundation has donated more than $400 million to hundreds of deserving charities around the world.

And he was always fond of reminding people that he didn’t do this alone. Staff, volunteers, community leaders and friends all fueled his actions in pursuit of the common good.

His legacy continues because of caring and committed individuals around the world.

I have the great honor of working with some of these individuals as the Director of Special Initiatives at SeriousFun where we’re all working together to ensure the camps and my father’s vision continues to grow and thrive.

We have all embraced his philosophy, and strive each day, to “make a difference, one smile at a time.”

Clea Newman is Director of Special Initiatives at SeriousFun Children’s Network, the international network of camps for children with serious illnesses founded by her father in 1988. SeriousFun’s mission is to create opportunities for children and their families to reach beyond serious illness and discover joy, confidence and a new world of possibilities, always free of charge. You can learn more about their work here.

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