Tribute to the Late Evelyn Lauder Draws Thousands

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Socialite, philanthropist, and a high-ranking executive of Estée Lauder (a company founded by her mother-in-law), Evelyn Lauder, A”H. Mrs. Lauder is credited as one of the creators of the pink ribbon as a symbol of breast cancer awareness.More than 2,000 celebrities and friends packed the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York this past week to pay tribute to Evelyn Lauder, who died in November at age 75 from complications of ovarian cancer. The audience included former New York Governor George Pataki; New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg; Michael Gould, Chairman and CEO of Bloomingdale’s; Stephen I. Sadove, Chairman and CEO of Saks Inc.; Bloomingdale’s Michael Gould; and designers Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. Members of the Lauder family, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Barbara Walters, Elizabeth Hurley and Dr. Larry Norton related memories of Evelyn Lauder’s life during the service.

An executive at the family’s Estee Lauder cosmetics company, Evelyn Lauder was known as a socialite and philanthropist. Her activism on behalf of breast cancer victims was highlighted by the millions of dollars she raised for the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which opened in October of 1992 and specializes in the treatment and diagnosis of breast cancer.

Speaking emotionally about his wife’s final days as his sons William and Gary stood alongside him at the podium, Lauder’s husband Leonard, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., said, “She knew this was the endgame, but she protected us. Up until the very end, she was smiling, always up.”  Noting that his wife had a special fondness for orchids, which she called the strongest flower due to its ability to bloom again after its demise, Lauder declared,  “Evelyn, my love, you are my perennial orchid. You will be with me — with us — always.”

Leonard Lauder related how his wife had generously offered her assistance to many women afflicted with breast cancer, including a counter manager at Neiman Marcus, a breast cancer survivor whom Evelyn connected with the doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. “She is alive and well today because Evelyn cared enough to pick up the phone and call,” the grieving but proud husband stated. “Nothing was impossible with Evelyn around.”

Born in Vienna, Austria, during World War II, Evelyn Lauder immigrated with her parents to New York City to escape the Nazis, noted Mayor Bloomberg. “No one showed this city more passion than Evelyn,” he said, pointing out how she served as a long-time teacher in a Harlem elementary school, and then helped build a New York City-based business from one with just five products into a major corporation. The mayor praised Lauder for her genuine warmth and kindness “that put everyone at ease.”

While acknowledging their mother’s numerous professional accomplishments as senior corporate vice president of Estée Lauder and founder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Evelyn Lauder’s sons focused their comments on personal memories of their mother, recalling her absolute devotion to her children and grandchildren, and her prodigious matchmaking ability.

Hurley recalled the seventeen years she spent traveling with Evelyn Lauder on behalf of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. “We’d be up at 4 AM. to do TV, we’d go to department stores and sign lipsticks all day, we’d host big fund-raising dinners,” recalled Hurley. “It could be exhausting — but never once did I hear her raise her voice.”

Dr. Norton, scientific director and chairman of the executive board of scientific advisers for the BCRF for the past 20 years, called Evelyn Lauder “a visionary,” who imparted a message that “we must all be healers.” The service ended with a moving video montage of Evelyn Lauder’s life, including family home movies.