Clowning CPA Gives Back to Community

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By Deanna C. White

On any given workday, one can find Edward Estrin, CPA, and CFO and vice president of Private Asset Management, Inc., sitting at his desk in the investment advisory firm's San Diego headquarters, bookmarked between two genteel art prints one might expect to find in any decorous accounting office.

On one side hangs Norman Rockwell's Daydreaming Bookkeeper, the famous Saturday Evening Post cover of June 7, 1924. The painting depicts a wan accountant wearing the traditional visor and sleeve garters of the times, sitting on a stool over his ledger book, lost in a daydream. On the other side of Estrin's desk is It's Income Tax Time Again!, another Rockwell painting of a harried tax preparer adrift in a sea of papers and ledgers. 

While both prints are a reflection of Estrin (albeit somewhat tongue in cheek), it's the portrait hanging between the Rockwell prints that rounds out Estrin's personality: a painting of his wife, Leah, in full clown makeup and costume. (The painting was done by Jim Howle, the official clown painter for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.) 

Estrin's career in business began in 1972 when he returned from Vietnam and went to work for his father selling fancy cardboard containers, but he soon discovered he had a knack for numbers. He wanted a career with more stability, so he enrolled in a few accounting classes to test the waters of professional finance.

There's much more on Estrin's résumé than his thirty-five-year career in public accountancy and his tenure as president of the California Society of Certified Public Accountants (CalCPA). He's also a professional magician and a professional clown, who, along with Leah, has spent the last eight years bringing joy, laughter, and a happy respite to sick children, senior citizens, and the men and women at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

While many people might perceive Estrin's clowning as completely contrary to his career as a CPA, Estrin believes the two activities are simply different sides of the same coin. "Most people believe in the Norman Rockwell stereotype of the stuffy accountant with a green visor on his head, but that isn't all that we do. It's like the saying bookkeeping is a science, but accounting is an art. When we talk about the difference between bookkeeping and accounting, we say in bookkeeping that two plus two always has to equal four, but accountants have to think more creatively. They have to be creative people."

Estrin first explored a career in entertainment in the early 1970s when he began learning how to become a professional magician. His passion for clowning began in 1976, after he married Leah and she asked him to make balloons for a local children's carnival. "She said, 'if you can do magic, you can do balloons,' and I don't like to say no", Estrin said. "That's how I became a clown."

Estrin said he started out as a "jelly clown", a clown so inexperienced with makeup that it looks like his face is painted with the remnants of a jelly sandwich. But he soon worked his way up to becoming a Shriner clown; Shriner clowns raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Through hard work and dedication, he now modestly considers himself to be "a pretty good clown." His clowning peers couldn't agree more. 

Today, Estrin is the vice president of the World Clown Association and has won a variety of clowning awards, including awards for makeup, costuming, balloon art, and parades. He and Leah also own their own clown school. But the accolades pale in comparison to the true reward of clowning, which Estrin said is volunteering as a caring clown.

"I've been very lucky . . . very successful in my business life, so I'm able to give back and do most events at no charge", Estrin said. "There's nothing better than to see a smile on a child's face or an older person's face . . . when you know that just by being silly, you've cheered them up. It's an incredible experience."

Estrin said, “[CPAs] aren't boring, stuffy old men and women. We all have lives outside of the profession, and we all do a lot of different, interesting things."

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