Newman’s best role was in charity

Freedom New Mexico

America, and the world, lost an exemplary man last week. Paul Newman, who died of cancer at 83, was one of the true legends of cinema.

He leaves memorable performances in “The Hustler,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” and more than 60 other films over a five-decade career.

Many people in the industry join those moviegoers who believe he should have received more than the single Best Actor Academy Award he received. He was nominated nine times and also was given two special Oscars, one for his cumulative body of work and another for his philanthropic endeavors.

It can be argued this philanthropy is his greatest legacy.

While Newman was an active political liberal, he didn’t do what most of his peers in Hollywood do — use their celebrity to pressure legislators to grab more money from taxpayers to fund their respective pet projects and campaigns. Instead, Newman used his fame to actually raise money on his own and apply it to charity. In fact, he was so averse to simply asking people to hand over money that he built what became an empire making and selling salad dressings, popcorn and other foodstuffs, with all proceeds going to charity.

It all started, legend has it, as a joke in 1982. Newman and his neighbor, A.E. Hotchner, began making oil and vinegar salad dressing, putting it in old wine bottles and giving it away when they went Christmas caroling. On a whim, they decided to see if it would sell. They put a picture of Newman on a few bottles and convinced another friend, Stew Leonard, to put them on a shelf in his grocery store in Norwalk, Conn.

The endeavor became a surprise success, netting more than $150 million for charity and leading economists to coin new terms, “cause marketing” and “conscientious consumerism,” for the phenomenon that many people will be more inclined to buy a certain brand of item if they know the proceeds will be used benevolently.

Newman established a foundation to manage the business, but in order to avoid waste and redundancy, he donated most of the profits to established charities such as UNICEF and Habitat for Humanity. He also used part of the money to establish 11 Hole-in-the-Wall camps, named for the gang his Butch Cassidy character in a 1969 film. The camps are for children with cancer and other major illnesses, and have been set up in places as remote as Botswana to help children in places that normally don’t attract the attention of your run-of-the-mill philanthropists.

We will always have the priceless collection of films and other works Paul Newman created over his extraordinary life. It can be argued, however, that perhaps his most valuable performance was the simple act of mixing up a few batches of salad dressing and making this a better world in the process.

That one act, and what has grown from it, serves as a reminder — and, we hope, a motivation — to those who have become accustomed to turning to government to fix all the world’s problems.

Anyone can make a similar contribution to our world. All it takes is an idea, a little effort, and a knowledge that it doesn’t take a government to make a difference.

May more people be inspired to follow Paul Newman’s example.