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Remembering Evelyn Lauder

Almost 1,500 people attended the funeral service to recall the triumphs and warmth of the late philanthropist and businesswoman, who died Saturday at 75.

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NEW YORK — Almost 1,500 people filed into Central Synagogue here Monday for a private funeral service recalling the triumphant life of Evelyn Lauder, who died Saturday at age 75.

Emotional remembrances of Lauder’s warm personality, unceasing philanthropy and successful business career were given by her family members, including her grandchildren, her sons William and Gary, her daughter-in-law Laura and, last, her husband of 52 years, Leonard.

Those present at the service included Terry Lundgren, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc.; Fred Langhammer, former president and ceo of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.; Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s; Burt Tansky, the former chairman and ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group, and Barbara Zinn-Moore, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, cosmetics and home for Lord & Taylor.

The entire event was planned by Evelyn Lauder before her death, including the musical selections played during the service. A public memorial service will be held in January, and the Empire State Building was lit pink Monday night in her memory.

News of her death from complications of nongenetic ovarian cancer stirred an outpouring of reminiscences, tributes and memorials to her, both as a businesswoman and an anticancer crusader.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton said in a statement, “Our friend Evelyn Lauder was a tireless advocate for women’s health. Her courage, creativity, and steadfast commitment to her cause made her efforts to raise awareness about breast cancer and advance the search for a cure all the more effective.

“Every time we see a pink ribbon — which people around the world now wear because of Evelyn — we think of Bill’s mother, who died of breast cancer in the second year of his Presidency. Hillary also thinks of the day in 1993 when Evelyn delivered more than 200,000 Pink Ribbon Petitions to her to ask for more government funding for research. Evelyn got the world closer to a time when no family will have to endure the pain of losing a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, or an aunt to this terrible disease. We will never forget how much she did to improve the lives of others.”

Her business role — as senior corporate vice president and head of fragrance development worldwide at Lauder — was intertwined with her fierce dedication to helping those suffering from breast cancer. She founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in 1993, and to date the organization has raised more than $350 million for research. BCRF supports 186 cancer researchers globally.

“My mother carried the torch of our company heritage and the values that were passed to her by my grandmother, Mrs. Estée Lauder,” William Lauder, executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Cos., said Saturday. “My mother and father were life partners as well as business partners. They nurtured the culture and growth of the Estée Lauder Cos., and as we grew, my mother was our creative compass and pillar of strength. Together my family and the company celebrate the beautiful person she was.”

Also on Saturday, Fabrizio Freda, president and ceo of the Estée Lauder Cos., said, “Evelyn embodied the heart and soul of the Estée Lauder Cos. She was one of the pivotal architects of our vision, values and culture. She was dynamic, creative, smart, endearingly warm, generous and incredibly gifted at connecting with people. Her enthusiasm was contagious.”

Although she pursued her anticancer mission in a highly visible way, she never drew attention to the fact that she herself was a cancer survivor, surviving both early-stage breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It was not until an interview in 2009 with WWD that she even acknowledged having had the disease, and then she discounted her case as merely “a scare,” in deference to those who she felt had suffered much more.

Tommy Hilfiger praised Lauder for not only her warmth of personality, but also her “great taste and great talent,” as well as her relentless pursuit of a cure for breast cancer. He recalled sitting with her 20 years ago, during a meeting in which she had to give approval for Hilfiger’s first women’s scent. Lauder asked him what was the name and Hilfiger said he was still working on it. He recalled her replying, “The name has to be Tommy Girl.” His answer? “You are absolutely right.” He also recalled her depth of generosity and kindness, as well as true grit in “pounding the pavement” for fund-raising, even when she wasn’t well. “She was an American icon,” he said.

As for her tenacity, Donna Karan agreed, “the word ‘no’ did not exist.” The designer noted that Lauder epitomized so many circumstances and values that the two women shared. “We co-wrote the journey from the world of beauty and fragrance to the world of cancer,” she said, adding that cancer has been a presence in her life since her days working at Anne Klein. Back in those days, “you didn’t even discuss the word,” Karan said. Lauder, however, created a whole building in the form of the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where women with the disease could go for help. “Evelyn was a manifester,” Karan declared. She praised Lauder for bearing great burdens “with such grace and style. I never heard Evelyn complain. She truly made a legacy for herself.”

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