Dolly Parton dodges spotlight while receiving philanthropy award

'I don't do it for attention, I just give from my heart,' music star says

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Dolly Parton laughs at the idea that she is some sort of secret philanthropist.

“I don’t do it for attention,” she said shortly before receiving the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy at Gotham Hall in New York City on Thursday. “But look! I’m getting a lot of attention by doing it.”

In fact, Parton believes she gets too much attention for her philanthropy work — which ranges from promoting childhood literacy to supporting those affected by natural disasters and providing numerous college scholarships through her Dollywood Foundation.

Social media sleuths did piece together this week that the country superstar had been quietly paying for the band uniforms of many Tennessee high schools for years.

And yes, it did take decades for her to reveal that she used the song writing royalties she earned from Whitney Houston’s version of I Will Always Love You to purchase a strip mall in Nashville to support the surrounding black neighbourhood in her honour.

Additionally, it did eventually come out that Parton had donated $1 million for research that helped create the Moderna vaccine for Covid-19.

“I get paid more attention than maybe some others that are doing more than me,” Parton said, adding that she hopes that attention inspires more people to help others.

In her Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy speech, Parton said she doesn’t really have a strategy for her donations.

“I just give from my heart,” she said. “I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m gonna do it. I just see a need and if I can fill it, then I will.”

One need Parton does focus on filling is fostering a love of reading in children. Her Imagination Library initiative sends a free book every month to children under five whose parents request them. Currently, Parton sends out about two million free books each month.

That programme continues to expand. Last month, California partnered with Imagination Library to make the programme available to the millions of children under five in the state.

“That is a big deal,” she said. “That’s a lot of children. And we’re so honoured and proud to have all the communities that make that happen because I get a lot of glory for the work a whole lot of people are doing.”

Parton said she’ll accept that attention because it furthers the cause. “I’m proud to be the voice out there doing what I can to get more books into the hands of more children,” she said.

Eric Isaacs, president of the Carnegie Institution for Science and a member of the medal selection committee, said Parton is a “tremendous example” of someone who understands the importance of philanthropy.

“Everyone knows her music,” he said. “They might know Dollywood for entertainment, more broadly. But now they’re going to know her for her philanthropy, which I’m not sure they have before.”

If Parton didn’t make philanthropy a priority in her life, it could be difficult to balance it with all her other pursuits.

She released Run, Rose, Run, a best-selling novel co-written with James Patterson, in March. She filmed the holiday movie Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas with Willie Nelson, Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Fallon for NBC. And she will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on November 5, alongside Eminem, Lionel Richie and Pat Benatar — an honour she initially declined, but then graciously accepted.

“I’m ready to rock,” she said, adding that she has already written a new song, especially for that ceremony in Los Angeles.

But Parton is also ready to expand her philanthropic work. This year, she launched the Care More initiative at her Dollywood Parks and Resorts, which gives employees a day off to volunteer at a non-profit organisation of their choice.

“I think it’s important for everyone to do their share to help their fellow man,” she said. “This world is so crazy. I don’t think we even know what we’re doing to each other and to this world.”

Parton says she hopes the day of service will let people realise that “when you help somebody, it helps them, but it can help you more.”

“That’s what we should do as human beings,” she said. “I never quite understood why we have to let religion and politics and things like that stand in the way of just being good human beings. I think it’s important from that standpoint just to feel like you’re doing your part, doing something decent and good and right.”

Updated: October 15, 2022, 5:11 AM
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