My good friend Cliff Hudis has sent me a report from the New York Times announcing the passing of Evelyn Lauder, at the age of 75, from complications stemming from non-genetic ovarian cancer. This news leaves me feeling quite sad: Evelyn was a force for good in this world, through her many philanthropic efforts, but particularly because of her great creation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
The BCRF has raised over $350 million for breast cancer research and has funded many outstanding researchers over the years. The foundation holds an annual meeting for its grant recipients in New York, and this year’s event was only a few weeks ago. Her husband Leonard stood in for her, relaying her best wishes and saying that she was “under the weather” but thinking of us. Not a word about her cancer, or the serious nature of her condition. Knowing Evelyn, I suspect she did not want to take the participants’ focus off what she considered important: the defeat of breast cancer.
But I think that many of the attendees, like myself, suspected that something was seriously wrong, because we could not imagine a BCRF meeting without her beautiful smile, her forthright manner, her strong sense of purpose, and her genuine graciousness. She was so much a part of it, and it of her, that her absence portended some great sadness, which has now come to pass.
The BCRF was a generous supporter of ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation, and many of our society’s young clinical and translational investigators benefitted from Evelyn Lauder’s passion for cancer research. They will, through the good works they perform, remain an important part of her legacy for decades to come.
Life is full of the unexpected: some good, some bad things happen, and we rarely know why. Evelyn’s family escaped from Nazi-controlled Austria to the United States when she was a young child, barely avoiding the looming Holocaust.
She was sleeping when the ship carrying her from Europe sailed into New York. Her mother woke her up so that she could see the Statue of Liberty. Her powerful commitment to doing the right thing, like that of so many of her fellow refugees to our shores, contrasts ever so starkly with the evil she escaped.
Her life demonstrated what human freedom combined with innate decency could accomplish. Lady Liberty must be shedding some tears tonight for her adopted child.
So goodbye to our good friend, Evelyn Lauder, and our condolences to her husband Leonard and her children, and to her extended family at Estee Lauder who I know will mourn her passing. She defined style, but she was all about substance.