The Whole in the Wall Gang Camp is still going strong after 34 years.
James Canton, CEO of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which serves children and their families coping with cancer and other serious illnesses, first met Paul Newman when the camp opened in 1988. Canton was a cabin counselor during that very first summer and has been part of the organization ever since, serving in various staff capacities over the years, including camp director, the position he held before being named chief executive officer 20 years ago.
What pops into your mind when you think of Paul Newman?
I remember his kindness and playfulness. I can remember how awestruck Paul was when he walked around Camp and how delighted he was with everything he saw. He would shake his head in disbelief and wonder at all the joy that he was witnessing. It worked—his dream worked—and in ways more remarkable than he ever could have imagined.
Related: Parade Turns to a New Book and Documentary, Co-Stars and Old Parade Covers to Celebrate Paul Newman's Life
We know what the camp means to the kids and their families. What did it mean to Paul Newman?
To Paul, Camp was a source of pure good—it was pure love, pure magic and pure intent. He wanted to do whatever he could to keep it in that same pristine way. To him, Camp was sacred.
Paul was no stranger to philanthropy, and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp was his opportunity to have his hand in the design of something that was truly life-changing and miraculous. It was his chance to imagine a worthy, transformational cause of his own creation and it allowed him to pay his own good fortune forward in a powerful way.
Do you remember the first time you interacted with Paul Newman? What struck you about him?
My first Camp memory of Paul was in the dining hall. He arrived during staff orientation that first summer and toasted us with a glass of lemonade the day before the first campers arrived. He said, “I’ve taken it this far, you take it from here. Raise a little hell.” There was so much anticipation to his visit, yet his words were so succinct and profoundly memorable. He invited all of us into his dream, into the history of this beautiful place. We all had something to contribute.
Any favorite story about Paul Newman and the camp?
Paul knew that laughter wasn’t just the best medicine for our campers. He loved to raise a little hell—with our kids and families as well as our donors. He made everything he touched fun and memorable. And he knew from day one that it would take a community of caring and devoted friends to make his dream their own and to bring it to places he never dreamed of. He also knew that anyone who touched Camp would leave that experience uplifted and reminded of what is most important in life. So, the more the community was involved, the greater the healing impact would be. That purity of intent has allowed us to grow from serving 288 children in 1988 to now thousands of children and family members every year—all free of charge.