March 20th, 2012
01:24 PM ET
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.
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.
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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.