Saint John’s trustee Chris Newman likes to help others excel

January 16, 2017

A star athlete gets the glory and recognition, while a coach gets the satisfaction of having propelled that individual to greatness. That’s a good analogy for Chris Newman. Like a consummate coach, she inspires others to do their best, sometimes working behind the scenes and always keeping the interest of her team—whether it's her family or Providence Saint John’s Health Center—in the forefront.

Chris became affiliated with Saint John’s at the urging of her longtime friend Mary Hesburgh. Mary, who in 1987 was launching a support organization to increase Saint John’s visibility in the community, invited Chris to an inaugural luncheon. The rest, as they say, is history. The event marked the beginning of the Irene Dunne Guild, a major support arm of the Health Center.

“Chris was instrumental in shaping the Irene Dunne Guild into what it has become." – Mary Flaherty

“We didn’t start as a fundraising entity,” Chris recalls.

“The idea was to create a group of young women who could spread the word and promote Saint John’s. It was much later that we started slowly earning money. Our first fundraiser was at the Brentwood Country Mart. We made about $3,000 and were very proud of ourselves.”

Chris went on to serve as president of the guild serving one year on her own and one year alongside trustee Mary Flaherty (Mary Hesburgh’s daughter). “Chris was instrumental in shaping the Irene Dunne Guild into what it has become,” says Mary Flaherty. “She provided invaluable direction and purpose in the early days and remains involved today.”

One of the projects Chris spearheaded was obtaining and installing VCRs in all patient rooms, as well as assembling a library of videotapes. Back in a time before smart phones and tablets, patients only had the in-room televisions to entertain them.

“Watching TV could get very depressing,” Chris says. “I thought people should be able to view tapes of events like weddings and birthday parties that they had missed or movies that they would prefer to watch.”


Chris’s talents impressed members of the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, and in 1995 she was invited to become a trustee. She has proudly held that position for more than two decades. In this role, she has hosted numerous fundraising events for the hospital. As a member of the board affairs committee, Chris has made it a priority to identify strong new members who can contribute their own unique talents to the Foundation.

Chris has made generous donations to support nursing and cancer research, as well as to sustain the general needs of the hospital. She took part in the Challenge to Lead, the 2008 campaign to rebuild the hospital, contributing personally and hosting an elegant cocktail party to recruit friends to the cause.

“I believe in Saint John’s,” she says. “There’s no hospital anywhere that provides better patient care or has better physicians. The nursing care is just wonderful. I tell people that if they’re not involved, they should be. Not only is it important to support the hospital for the good of the community, but also for personal reasons. You learn what’s going on and build relationships with physicians.”

Chris experienced the hospital’s excellent medical care and compassion from the patient side as well. In the late 1980s, she was diagnosed and treated for an aggressive type of lymphoma. “I was very fortunate,” she says. “My doctor, Daniel Lieber, was excellent and everyone on the oncology floor was wonderful.”

One of her favorite things about serving as a trustee involves the opportunity to attend Chautauqua Weekend, an annual retreat for trustees, hospital leadership and physicians. “We hear about the new things that are happening in areas such as heart and vascular care, women’s health, and cancer. It’s very exciting,” she says. “It’s also rewarding to see the physicians exchanging ideas and listening to one another … you know that we’re getting the best of the best.”


Chris is married to AECOM founder and chairman emeritus Dick Newman. AECOM is a multinational company that provides design, building and project management services. The couple, who met as students at Bucknell University, celebrated 58 years of marriage this year, and Chris says that it just gets better every year. Residents of Santa Monica, Chris and Dick maintain close relationships with their three grown sons, John, Rick and Kevin, daughters-in-law Lori and Amy and long-term girlfriend Mari, and four grandchildren.

“They’re all athletes,” Chris says about her brood. Her husband played “every sport you could imagine” in college and remains physically active today. Her middle son played football, wrestled and was a shot putter, while the youngest played water polo, swam and wrestled. Chris and Dick enjoy watching their grandchildren (two are now in college) run and play water polo, soccer and volleyball.

As a special treat, when each grandchild turns about 13 or 14 years old, Chris and Dick take them on a trip—just the child and grandparents—to see the Olympics or anywhere they want to go. “No matter how much the parents beg to come, they cannot come,” she laughs. So far, these excursions have taken them to the Olympics in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro.

Chris supports several other institutions in addition to Saint John’s Health Center. She is on the boards of the Children’s Institute, Inc., a Los Angeles nonprofit dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect, and Blue Ribbon, the premier women’s support organization of The Music Center. She served as past president of the Juniors of Social Service, which supports Regis House’s educational, recreational and social service programs in Los Angeles.

Chris was born in Warsaw, Poland. Her family moved to Canada when she was 3 years old. Chris’s parents told her that when she went to the park each day, she would watch the other children but not say a word. She simply listened. Then one day she opened her mouth and she could speak English perfectly.

Today Chris Newman still waits to speak until she feels she has something worth expressing. So when she talks, you know it will be worth your while to listen. And you’ll likely be enhanced by the experience.