by Natalie Finn | Wed., Nov. 30, 2016 12:11 PM
Paul Walker's death on Nov. 30, 2013, two days after Thanksgiving, was a shocking loss.
The exceptionally handsome actor was only 40, and the fact that the star of the blockbuster Fast & Furious franchise had been killed in a car accident only added to the bitter tragedy. He left behind a 15-year-old daughter, Meadow Rain Walker. His family and friends were devastated. Those were the elements that were obvious right from the start.
While it came as no surprise to his biggest fans or those who knew Walker well, it was only upon his death that millions more people learned just what a splendid human he had been in life.
In addition to being a very committed actor, one who was mainly known for his blockbuster popcorn movies but who threw himself 100-percent into his films and had designs on doing more dramatic roles, Walker was someone whose goal in life was to give back.
After visiting earthquake-ravaged Haiti in 2010 as part of a team providing relief to survivors, he founded Reach Out Worldwide, which coordinates emergency response teams to get to disaster sites more quickly and efficiently.
Walker wasn't just the celebrity face of the organization, either. He joined ROWW teams on the ground in Chile after an 8.8 earthquake in March 2010 (the organization's first major project) and in Alabama after a tornado tore threw Tuscaloosa in April 2011, and within its first year of existence ROWW sent first responders to Indonesia and the Philippines.
Walker's death was a blow to the organization, but those who knew how important ROWW was to the actor have devoted themselves to fundraising and carrying on in Paul's name. In fact, just as the completion of Furious 7 became a family effort, with Paul's brothers Cody and Caleb filling in as body doubles for scenes that were supposed to have Brian O'Conner's presence, so has Cody taken on what Paul considered to be his most important role.
Cody Walker traveled with ROWW to Nepal after a 7.8 earthquake struck in 2015, his first mission with the group as its new leader.
"It's bittersweet," the actor and activist, who was a paramedic living in Oregon when his older brother was killed, told L.A.'s ABC 7 News before their nine-member mobile disaster medical team caught their flight to Kathmandu. "I am very happy for what he did leave behind for us to continue. These are all people that really cared about Paul, too, it's not just me."
Cody added, "It's easier to jump on with an organization that you like, that you want to support as a celebrity. But it was more important to him to really be in the trenches and get dirty."
And if Paul were still alive, "this is exactly what he'd be doing right now," Cody said. "ROWW would be doing this exact same thing. The only difference is that I'm here and he's not...I know he's looking over us and he's there. He'll be there with us."
Just weeks before ROWW headed to Nepal, Cody was doing press for Furious 7, which he deemed the best installment of the franchise yet—and which went on to make more than $1.5 billion worldwide.
While it helped with the process to have Caleb on set with him and to be around so many people who adored Paul, Cody told E! News, "We're still recovering, we're never going to be totally over it."
And while ROWW continues its good works, Walker's cinematic legacy will live on as well. Fast 8 already has a release date of April 14, 2017, and Vin Diesel—who named his daughter Pauline in honor of his late friend—has said that Walker is one of the main reasons that another FF movie is in the works.
"Paul used to say that [an eighth film] was guaranteed and, in some ways, when your brother guarantees something, you have to make sure it comes to pass," Diesel told MTV News shortly after Furious 7 came out. "So, if fate has it—fate, F8—then you'll get it. Furious 7 was for Paul; 8 is from Paul."
Diesel reunited with Cody and Walker's mother, Cheryl, at ROWW's second annual Game4Paul fundraiser in September, and Charlene took to Vin's Facebook (which has served as a space for numerous tributes to Paul over the years) afterward to tell their supporters: "I want to say thank you to all of you for all your support. My son lives on in all of you. It makes his work continue here on Earth and I know he's watching over us as we do this. I'm grateful for all my children but especially Cody working on this to keep ROWW going. It just makes my heart sing. I miss Paul, but he keeps working. Thank you everybody."
As for the family's next generation, Walker's daughter, Meadow, who went to live with her dad in L.A. in 2011 after spending most of her life in Hawaii with mom Rebecca Soteros, turned 18 earlier this month.
"Time does help, but for her it is different than it is for me," Cody told People at the Game4Paul event, which raised over $130,000 for Louisiana flood victims. "That was my brother, and we [were] really close and I love him dearly, but that was her dad, and she was young to have her dad taken from her."
"But she is doing better," he continued. "And we're just protective of her and everyone around her is, and that is why no one hears too much [about her]. That is just the way Paul would have wanted it. Paul was so protective of all of us, he was a very private person."
While her family has rallied around her to make sure that she's been allowed to live as private a life as possible since her dad's death, Meadow quietly established the Paul Walker Foundation on what would have been his 42nd birthday, Sept. 12, 2015, to benefit another cause close to the actor's heart, ocean conservation.
"Reflecting on my father, I found myself reflecting on his passions," the teen wrote on Instagram announcing the project. "His passion for the ocean, his passion for rescuing animals, his passion for helping people and his passion for spontaneous goodwill. I wanted to start this foundation because I want to share that piece of him with the world. I want to share that part of him with others."
"I share Paul's inquisitiveness for the mystery of the ocean and the great potential it holds for new discoveries that will enrich the lives and inspire the curiosities of the next several generations," Grenier said at the ceremony I also share Paul's passion for ocean health and recognize that we have an opportunity to create real and lasting change that will benefit our marine environment and ultimately ourselves."
When someone passes away in his prime, as Walker was, it's a particularly heartbreaking. He will be remembered for the movies he made, for the twinkle in his eye, for his kindness and generous spirit. That's why loved ones, co-stars and fans who continue to pay tribute to Walker ensure that those memories will live on.
But Paul Walker was also a man whose focus stretched far beyond Hollywood, and his family and friends are still working on expanding that vision, to best way to honor the memory of someone who had dedicated all the time he could to helping others.
And since those who knew him best know that he would have been continuing to help others to this day, should he have been given more time, they remain determined to make sure his legacy endures.
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