Newman Was Our Neighbor
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News

It's been a week since we learned of the death of Paul Newman and it is still difficult to come to terms with his passing. Those of us who have lived and or worked in this area for many years all have our Paul Newman stories. As I think about my own Newman sightings, encounters and even my brief interviews with him, I am so amazed how sad I feel about the fact that he no longer will be amongst us. How many times in mentioning the town of Westport, we would say "Oh, that's where Paul Newman lives."

For some of us of a certain age, the attraction began early in the teen years when my bedroom closet door was plastered with color photos of movie stars from Photoplay and other movie magazines. They were the People magazine of their day filled with shots of the brooding heartthrobs from the movies of the 50s: Marlon Brando, James Dean, Steve McQueen and upstart Newman, who sustained stardom on stage and screen for more than a half century.

Unlike the other movie stars, Newman was our neighbor, at least in our minds. This feeling that we knew him and that he is one of us evolved from his interests beyond his starring roles on the screen. We watched him race at Lime Rock. We enjoyed the plays at the renovated Westport Playhouse and more importantly we bought Newman's Own food products.Yes, we felt strongly he was our neighbor. He bought popcorn at the former Fine Arts movie theater on the Post Road when we went to the movies. He shopped at the same shopping centers. He supported the same cultural events and political candidates and urged citizens to get involved in their communities and in the elections. He even drove along the same local roads.

"Hey, wasn't that Paul Newman who just drove by?"

Winnie Balboni, a resident of Westport, probably as long as Newman and like the actor has supported many worthy community causes with her volunteerism, said this week that "We all thought he was one of us. Of course, he wasn't."
She noted that in recent years Newman had given the Friends of Sherwood Island $15,000 to complete the renovation of the Nature Center at the state park.

Why even just thinking of Paul Newman still makes the heart of this grandmother of six flutter?

Why do I still have - I believe for two years now - the photo I took of Newman on election night when he walked into the Inn at Longshore where former Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell was following the election returns in her battle to unseat incumbent Christopher Shays in the Fourth Congressional District race.

I was the first journalist in the room to recognize Newman as he quietly and unassumingly (so Newmanesque) strolled in with his wife Joanne Woodward a few steps behind. It was amazing to observe people suddenly realize who had just entered the room and to see them quickly flock to Newman for comments about the race in which he saw his favorite candidate lose in her second bid to unseat the incumbent. I, too, flipping reporter's notebook, maneuvered quickly to stand before Newman as I tried to remain calm and professional and not be so ridiculous as to slip into my teenage groupie self.

Between my asking questions and maintaining my spot on the carpet in front of him, I did manage to get a great shot of him. As I look at the photo today, I am still amazed how great he looked at 81 with his signature glasses propped on his nose as his blue eyes focused over the rims to talk to reporters.

But aside from the good looks, the award-winning acting ability, and fast cars, Newman's legacy is indeed his philanthropic accomplishments, especially through the founding with author A. E. Hotchner in 1982, of Newman's Own, Inc., the premium food company that offers all natural food and beverage products. Since its founding, the company has raised $250,000 for charities worldwide. In giving the monies, the company focuses on areas of health, education, the elderly, the arts and the environment, plus any emergencies situations that arise.

The company's motto is "Shameless Exploitation in the Pursuit of the Common Good." Isn't that so Paul Newman?

In reflecting upon his life Newman had said he had been very lucky in his life. And "What would be better than holding your hand out to someone less fortunate," he acknowledged about his luck.

The philanthropist Newman opened the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children with life-threatening diseases in Ashford in 1986 and went on to establish camps in other states and in Europe.

Locally, many organizations have been the recipient of Newman's Own generosity. In the Connecticut Post this week, Richard Fuller, retired executive director of the Norwalk-based George Washington Carver Community Center, recalled Newman providing an unsolicited donation in 1984 to further the organization's mission of helping at-risk youth.
Fuller said, "(Newman's attorney) called me to his office (and) said, 'We've got something for you.' And he casually hands me a check for $25,000."

We can continue to remember Newman by buying Newman's own products to support the causes that he so generously supported. These causes were important to Newman and they're important to us: healthcare, education and the environment.
For information go to http:// . Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has covered Norwalk extensively. She can be reached at .

Copyright 2008 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.