- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2004

Paul Newman is his own man, even when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has him in her grip. Not literally, of course, but close enough to tell him how she is “trying to elect the first Democratic woman speaker — but that’s politics. That’s not for tonight.”

“Why not?” cool Mr. Blue Eyes replied with engaging nonchalance, a bottle of Kirin Light beer in hand, during a VIP reception in the presidential suite of the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel Monday night.

The presence of a major Hollywood star at the hotel’s celebratory opening dinner, attended by Judy Woodruff, Frank Loy, Bitsey Folger, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, Gahl Hodges Burt, Shirley and Albert Small, Debbie Dingell, Joe Duffey and Anne Wexler and D.C. Council members Carol Schwartz and Jack Evans wasn’t coincidence: The proceeds from the evening — more than $200,000 — were to go to a charity Mr. Newman founded, the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, for children with serious or life-threatening illnesses.

A key sponsor of the evening was his friend Alan Novak, a Washington developer who is a minority partner in the hotel — he owned the Southwest property where it sits with lovely views of sky and water. Mr. Novak also is a key backer of the camps, which number six around the world, with three more opening this month. Mr. Newman founded the first in 1988 near his home in Connecticut to give ailing children an all-expenses-paid week of fun in handsomely (and medically) equipped country sites. Such children — about 73,000 to date —normally would not be able to attend any camp.

“They are homegrown from the sense of ownership, with four requirements: a hospital partner, land, money and need,” explained Stocky Clark, the former head of Outward Bound USA who is the Hole in the Wall group’s executive director.

The prospect of paparazzi alighting on the scene had so alarmed aides that flashing Mr. Newman was forbidden for fear it might take away from emphasis on the philanthropic aim of a night that featured the creations of four chefs, Japanese drummers, Grammy-winning violinist Joshua Bell and two exotic performers known as Shanghai mask changers flown in for the occasion.

Washington isn’t Hollywood, though, as the 79-year-old former Kennedy Center honoree well knows. “That’s foolish,” he remarked, giving consent with his trademark shy, sly smile.

Ann Geracimos

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