Patricia Heaton reflects on time in Rwanda, charity work, motherhood and Hollywood

Patricia Heaton: When we drove into Kigali, I couldn’t believe the streets were so clean – everything was pristine. There wasn’t garbage anywhere.
Patricia Heaton. Net photo.

Patricia Heaton is a famous Hollywood actress and television star best known for her roles as Debra Barone on the long-running hit comedy Everybody Loves Raymondand, most recently, as Frankie Heck in The Middle.

Heaton is an Ohio State-born Catholic mother of four boys. She is a seven-time nominee and two-time winner of the glorious Emmy Award.

In 2012, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her star was number 2,472 in the television category on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Beyond this, she is the global celebrity ambassador of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families, and communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.

Patricia Heaton was in Rwanda recently as part of her charity work with World Vision. The New Times’Julius Bizimungusat down with her for insights into her charity work, Hollywood experience, and life as a television mum.


Being your first trip to Rwanda as the World Vision Celebrity Ambassador, what have you observed?

I was really impressed when we landed by two things; how beautiful Rwanda is – very green and lush. It reminds me of the state of Hawaii [in the United States]. And I was surprised because a number of other countries I’ve been to have been plagued by deforestation.

When we drove into Kigali, I couldn’t believe the streets were so clean – everything was pristine. There wasn’t garbage anywhere.

I’ve never seen that anywhere.

Having been to different communities around the developing world and particularly in Africa, what are the similar aspects of life in communities you have toured?

Generally, I’ve found out that in all African countries I’ve visited, people are very warm and friendly, and they are very open to doing whatever it takes to make the changes.

The work ethic is very high. And, that’s what World Vision loves because when we bring a programme we work with the community, and the more commitment the community has, the better and faster the programme is going to take.

So, when you have the kind of persistence I found Africans have, within one year their lives can change drastically for the better.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be involved in charity and why do you think it matters?

I am Catholic and I know that my father always gave money to charity even though we didn’t have a lot. We weren’t poor but there was not a lot of extra because he paid for all of us to go to Catholic schools.

But even so, he made sure that he would give money to charities, and that is what it has always been in my mind.

When I was looking for what kind of organisation used every dollar the best, it was World Vision because 86 cents of every dollar goes to the programme.

If you are going to take money that you worked hard for and give it to someone else, you want to make sure that the programmes they are doing are going to have the biggest impact for generations.

What specific activities are you currently doing with World Vision?

Clean water is such a big problem and World Vision has a great record of bringing sustainable clean water to developing communities. As you know having clean water affects so many other areas.

If you have clean water in your house, if flees you up to start your own business, flees your children to go to school, you are healthier and you are able to take care of your home.

That is why I am really focused with World Vision because they are making impact.

It is so amazing that you’ve managed to do all this work. You have been able to have nine seasons on Everybody Loves Raymond, and nine seasons on The Middle. That is not something that is easily achievable...

I think because for me, I didn’t actually start making my living as an actor until I was 30 years old. It took me a very long time.

In those years that I was struggling I was able to figure out what is the most important thing and I was more mature, so that by the time I started getting to work I started getting awards.

I was able to handle it because I already had my family which was very important. I didn’t place too much importance on all the fancy stuff around being an actor. It was more of going to work, doing my job and coming home to be with my family.

Also, what does it feel like to be a television mother and at the same time being a mother of four boys in real life?

The reason both of the shows lasted so long is because they were very true to life. The audience recognised what they were seeing because it was reflective of their life. And it was reflective of my life too. I would open a script to read it and would say this is exactly what is going on in my house.

That was the sign of a good show. The writers were really reflecting what was happening in peoples’ lives. That is why the shows were internationally viewed because the problems, the trials and tribulations of marriage and family are universal.

Everybody experiences the same no matter what country you are in.

What was great about that is that even when I was pregnant I would go on a show, they would just cover up and they didn’t care. I was able to work throughout my pregnancy.

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