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March 20th, 2012
01:24 PM ET

Four-time cancer survivor gives back

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  This week, Jon Huntsman Sr., father of former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., shares his story.

When this businessman was born 74 years ago, he wasn't expected to live. He's also survived four types of cancer: prostate, mouth and two types of skin cancer - squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Yet, he says his biggest challenge in his life was watching his daughter Kathleen die after suffering from drug addiction and leaving behind seven young children, whom he helped raise.

Huntsman has donated more than $1 billion dollars for cancer research and scholarships.  He sat down with CNN at his headquarters in Salt Lake City and shared some of his thoughts. The following is an excerpt from that interview:

CNN: You say your success was built by working hard and with the help of many others and always thinking of others.

From very humble beginnings, surrounding myself with very marvelous people, we've been able to build quite a large business. And I'm pleased to say that right from the beginning, we started giving money away to charity over 40 years ago, even when I had to borrow from the bank.

I feel greatly blessed that we've been able to be in business all these years. Many of those folks who said we'd never make it, they're out of business today.

We're honored today to have devoted most of our income, most of my income, most of the income of our business, to various charities in one form or another: to cancer - Huntsman Cancer Institute of course being the largest, but maybe others that are quiet and that help people in need; abused women and children; many thousands of scholarships; higher education; homeless centers in different parts of the world; and areas that we hope will make a difference to our fellow man and woman and to mankind in general.

CNN: You say you want to die broke, why?

Well you know, you can't spend money after you die. I've left a wonderful charitable foundation, so that our Huntsman Cancer Institute, and our other charities can keep functioning for hopefully hundreds of years.

But the money that I left beyond that, I feel it needs to be given away during my lifetime... Wealthy people, or even people who enjoy an income of 15 or 20 or 30 or 40 thousand dollars a year, whether they give $1 a week or $5 a month, there's just a certain joy in your heart to be able to help somebody else, even when you're struggling.

When my wife and I made only $300 a month as a naval officer right out of college and I had debts to pay, we always gave $50 a month away to charity in addition to our tithing. And it was just something that in my heart I've always believed that if you are generous and help others, you'll be blessed in your own life.

And more importantly, it's just the right thing to do. And I'd love to see - you may have seen it at the Huntsman Cancer Institute - there's a certain twinkle in people's eyes when they feel a sense of happiness and a sense that all's going to be well.And I love to see that twinkle in people's eyes, when you give them a scholarship and you give someone who struggled really hard... and all of a sudden, they break into tears and that's worth a million dollars to me.

CNN: What's the next big thing you're going to tackle?

We're going to continue to [donate to] centers for abused women and children, which we have today some of the most beautiful and well-equipped in the world.  We will continue with our homeless programs.  We have some wonderful homeless programs here and [in] other parts of the United States and even abroad.

We're continuing to give out thousands of scholarships for under-served children because I was one of those who received an under-served scholarship when I was a young boy.  I'll never forget it - it changed my life. A wonderful Jewish family gave a scholarship to this Mormon boy from the hinterlands or farmlands of Idaho. They didn't care what my background or religion was. And I've always loved this wonderful family that took me under their wing and sent me through college.

But I think my next ambition is to try to develop - named after my daughter - a great center for addictions, for different addictions, for trauma people, for people who have emotional distress in their life.

I don't think we have the right type of centers and the right places where there's peace and tranquility and where it can be crafted...  because so many people today have addictions of various kinds or trauma in their lives or some type of guilt or hurt.  We have to remove that because all men and women are good. They're all good; they just have to know in their heart to put away that bag of rocks they're carrying over their shoulder or that guilt feeling or that sense of emotionalism that they've done something wrong because there's such goodness in mankind, such spirit of God in everybody and the spirit of Christ in everybody.

They're good people – they just don't know it yet.  And so before the good Lord calls me home, I'd like to develop one more great facility that would help these people particularly, who suffer from addictions and who suffer from a lack of self-esteem and who lack of some form of emotional stability - to sure to know that they are loved and that they can achieve their dreams in the same way that we've achieved ours.


soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Meir Weiss

    Reblogged this on Meir Weiss' Blog.

    March 20, 2012 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kate Mc Adams

    Now here is an example of a good person and the true definition of a Christian. Losing his daughter must have been heartbreaking but look all that Mr Huntsman Sr has done for the disadvantaged. His son was the only non nutter running under the GOP ticket and I truly liked him though I am a democrat. Of course that is why he is out of the race now. The Huntsmans seem to put people and country first instead of unimportant things. As a cancer sufferer his survival gives me renewed hope that I will conquer my own disease.

    March 21, 2012 at 01:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. richard dellerson

    A truly great American. Hopefully his son Jon Jr. will become President someday. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

    March 23, 2012 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ROSE KELTY

    I am a cancer survivor and my mother recently was diagnosed with cervical cancer is their a way to get in tiuch with Mr. Huntsman? rkelty961@msn.com is my email for info. Thank you

    March 23, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. trent

    mormons aren't so bad after all

    March 24, 2012 at 17:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Beryl Shaw

    In the list of things that Jon Huntsman is interested in helping with, there so many congruences with my own life – and the people I've worked to help over the past 32 years.
    I applaud his way of looking at the 'necessaries' of this life.
    Love the idea of cancer treatment rooms with beautiful views – I could have done with that during my own grueling 6 months of chemotherapy which followed middle of the night emergency surgery, when I was close to death. Happy to be alive!
    So grateful for the things I've been able to pass on; books, courses, seminars, training for health professionals; and now I'm trying to make a move that will launch me onto the US stage. You have 13.5 million people there currently living with cancer and a further 1.5 million diagnosed every year. I hunger to help them all.
    Mr Huntsman's cancer hospital even looks wonderful from the outside.
    I'd love to touch base with him. Is he readily available for people like me to contact?
    Blessings.
    Beryl Shaw – the Fear Buster from Down Under http://www.anotherlife.com.au

    July 28, 2012 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. John Kennedy

    Thank you to Jon Huntsman i heard much good about you from your daughter Kathleen. I hope she sees this from Heaven.
    Right before the elections of 2008 i met Kathleen and her daughter. I was traveling playing music and became homeless suddenly. I met these two at a meeting and they acted like saints and helped me back on my feet and to the music show i had booked. Kathleen saved me from sleeping in the foliage near PCH. She is an angel. They're sobriety reinspired mine.
    She and Kate and friends drove me to meetings and helped me find work and support. I was with her to celebrate your son's election and wish i had known them longer.... love from John Kennedy (Better Blue of Steeel Woool rock band) in New Jersey.
    Thank you Jon Sr., my own mother just got cancer-free. Bless you all.

    February 26, 2014 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.