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Evelyn Lauder left a big legacy behind.
She founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation in 1993 to support and fund medical research aimed at preventing and ultimately finding a cure for the disease. To date, the organization has raised more than $380 million and contributed to the work of 197 research doctors globally.
Lauder, herself a breast cancer survivor and one of the creators of the pink ribbon symbol for awareness, served as chairman of the foundation until her death last year. (She also held executive positions with Estée Lauder Companies Inc. for more than 50 years.) For her philanthropic efforts, the Jodi Fisher Humanitarian Award will go to Lauder at the 19th annual QVC Presents “FFANY Shoes on Sale” event on Oct. 22.
“Evelyn showed how one person can make a difference. She had a battle with breast cancer about 25 years ago and said ‘I have to do something about this,’” said husband Leonard Lauder, who now serves as chairman of the foundation and will accept the award on behalf of his wife. “I wish she were here, but [the award] means a great deal to me. Even though she’s not with us now, the world is recognizing her work and her greatness.”
Even before starting the foundation, Lauder worked to raise more than $18 million to establish the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Cancer Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, which opened in 1992. It was considered the first breast cancer diagnostic and treatment center all under one roof, said Dr. Larry Norton, medical director and deputy physician in chief of Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Now, Norton said, the resources for research continue to improve and new grants have been added, thanks to the foundation’s work.
In 2005, BCRF created the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium, which combined the efforts of 16 different research centers across the U.S. for clinical trials. Since its inception, the consortium has completed 24 trials. Other accomplishments include studies that have revealed more information about breast cancer stem cells that are at the root of the disease, according to a 2009 report done with research funding from BCRF.
“[Evelyn] recognized that to really get creative juices flowing, you have to pick the right people and provide them with resources and freedom,” said Norton. “That’s what we do with our scientists.”
Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi, professor of medicine at The University of Texas Medical Center and a member of the scientific advisory board for BCRF, said Evelyn Lauder ran the foundation so that more than 90 percent of the money raised goes directly to research. Additionally, the foundation works with centers and researchers that have an established history in the industry, eliminating the need for a time-consuming application process.
“Sometimes you can spend half a year preparing an application for research, but what [is most important is] the time you spend in labs,” said Hortobagyi. “BCRF moved the field forward. It’s an enormous accomplishment.”
And Hortobagyi credited Lauder’s dedication for making the foundation the impressive charity it is today.
“Evelyn was simply an amazing human being with a huge heart and even greater charisma. She had a formidable personality, and it’s always hard to replace that,” said Hortobagyi, adding that Leonard Lauder was the one man who could fill the spot. “He is an incredible executive and businessman, and he’s committed to continuing the work that Evelyn started.”
Added Leonard Lauder, “Her work goes on, and I know in my lifetime there will be a cure.”
Myra Biblowit, who helped start the foundation and has worked as BCRF’s president since 2001, said, “It’s very exhilarating to work beside somebody who leads with that sort of passion and commitment. Evelyn adored Jodi Fisher, so it’s particularly fitting that she’ll [be honored with this award]. Evelyn used to say we are going to go out of business one day — because solving breast cancer is achievable. But we are leaving our footprint with our research dollars, and we are answering bigger questions about all cancers. We have a relevance and longevity that would thrill Evelyn Lauder.”