When former NFL star Walter Payton died in 1999 of a rare liver disease, highlights from his 13-year career with the Chicago Bears weren't the only legacy he left behind. In his final days, Walter promoted organ donation through TV commercials and brought a new awareness to the problem. Today, Walter's wife, Connie, and their two children, Brittney and Jarrett, continue to promote their father's favorite charitable causes—including organ donation—through the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. The Peetes talk with the Payton family about the foundation and life since Walter's death.
Brittney is a college senior, and Jarrett, following in his father's footsteps, is a professional football player for the Canadian Football League. "He motivates me every single day to get up and work hard—that is what he taught me," Jarrett says. Brittney is also emulating her father through her nonprofit Youth for Life campaign, which encourages young people to register as organ donors. "We've [all] had ideas and come up with things and different stuff to keep his legacy alive," Brittney says of herself, her mother and brother.
Connie says her children have been instrumental in carrying on their father's charity work, participating in commercials about organ donation as well as throwing holiday, graduation and back-to-school events for less fortunate children. "It is a big task, but we really enjoy it, and we know [Walter] would be happy as to where we are today," Connie says. "He would love it."
Giving back to others through the family foundation keeps their father's mission alive, but life has moved on for Connie and her children. Eight years after Walter's death, Connie says she finally started dating and is now engaged—her children say they couldn't be happier. "My thing with my mom—I just want her to be happy," Jarrett says. "She has gone through a lot in her life, and she has been there for me and Brittney. She has worked so hard for the last eight years, and [now we want] to let her have some time to herself."
Thanks to her children, Connie says she's now in a good place in life. "I've got two wonderful children, and I am so blessed to have them in my corner, and they really have been there and my source of strength," she says.