Paul Newman's Legacy

I met Paul Newman once. Well, actually, I stood next to him crossing a street in Atlantic City, New Jersey at the Democratic National Convention that was being held there. I had always spent summers at the Shore as we had a beach house there when I was growing up. That summer, 1964, I was 16 years old. I had volunteered to work as an usher seating people at the Convention. One night, after finishing my job, I was heading to the corner to “catch a jitney” ride home (sort of a mini-bus unique to Atlantic City culture) when, waiting for the light to change to green so I could cross, I turned to glance at the man standing next to me who was also waiting to cross and, well, yes, it was Paul Newman.  

Now a 16-year-old girl in 1964 standing next to Paul Newman has just one thought: Don’t faint. I actually remember thinking that. I also remember beginning to stutter, literally, trying to get out the words, “Are you really Paul Newman?”…as if a possible answer might have been, “No, not really.”  Anyway he was gracious and kind to the obviously star-struck and inarticulate teenager…a situation I think he must have been very used to…and he made a comment or two before the light changed and we both crossed.

Today he died at age 83.

What I am most awed by is not his eyes or his movie career or the longevity of his celebrity marriage in an age when celebrities can’t seem to stay married longer than the time it takes to make a movie. I am most awed by his foresight and charitable nature. He seemed to get, earlier than most, how connected we all are and how giving is the one sure path to personal satisfaction, not to mention material wealth.

There is a short video clip on Newman’s Own website today that is a brief interview with him that appears to be quite recent. If I heard it right, and I listened to it twice, he actually says “goodbye” at the end and it’s not a gratuitous goodbye…its the goodbye of a man who knows he is dying and is saying it from a place deep inside his soul. In that clip he speaks about the need, his need, to help others… particularly children, the poor, the elderly and the Earth. And help he did, having given 100% of the proceeds from his company Newman’s Own, $250,000,000, to charitable causes. 

When my father passed away 9 years ago a Rabbi told me that the best way to honor a life is to take something that was admirable about that life and become it. Perpetuate it. Carry it forward. I think we could do a lot worse than honoring Paul Newman’s life in this way. If each of us could come to understand how connected We All Are and that the greatest personal satisfaction and wealth come from giving…I believe this to be the winning combination for successfully moving beyond the economic, environmental and societal challenges we face.

Only when we care about, respect and support each other as well as the Earth with all It’s life forms will we turn this around and end the blight that is upon us and return to a state of balanced well-being.

It has been 44 years since I stood next to, and gazed into, those riveting blue eyes. Today I learned for the first time that those eyes were, in fact, colorblind. Maybe Paul Newman was not able to see color but he saw something much more important.

He saw Oneness and made the world a better place for it.

Let’s keep up the good work.

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