Evelyn Lauder dies, and breast cancer loses key activist

Evelyn Lauder attends a press event for The Estee Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art in this April 26, 2011 film photo. Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Estee Lauder

Evelyn Lauder appearing at a press event for breast cancer awareness in New York City on April 26, 2011.
Getty Images for Estee Lauder

(CBS/AP) Breast cancer activist Evelyn Lauder has died. One of the creators of the pink ribbon that has come to symbolize the fight against the disease, she died of complications of non-genetic ovarian cancer on Saturday at her home in New York City. She was 75.

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The pink ribbon campaign had its beginnings in 1992 with a collaboration between Lauder and her friend Alexandra Penney, the former editor-in-chief of Self magazine. It started small, with Lauder and her husband - Leonard Lauder, an executive the Estee Lauder cosmetics company - largely financing the little bows given to women at department store makeup counters to remind them about breast cancer.

That grew into fundraising products, congressional designation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and $330 million in donations to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which Lauder started.

That money helped establish the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which opened in 2009.

Just last month, she reminisced about the early days of the breast cancer campaign. When it launched, it was so little known that some people thought it symbolized AIDS awareness.

"There had been no publicity about breast cancer, but a confluence of events - the pink ribbon, the color, the press, partnering with Elizabeth Hurley, having Estee Lauder as an advertiser in so magazines and persuading so many of my friends who are health and beauty editors to do stories about breast health - got people talking," she said. Then, three years after distributing the first pink ribbon, a flight attendant noted it on Lauder's lapel and said, "I know that's for breast cancer."

"From there, it became ubiquitous," she recalled.

Born Evelyn Hausner in 1936 in Vienna, Austria, she fled Nazi-occupied Europe with her parents, and they settled in the U.S. As a college freshman, she met her husband, the elder son of Estee Lauder and whose family owned what was then a small cosmetics company.

Lauder was diagnosed with her cancer in 2007, but it didn't slow her down much. Each October, she appeared at cancer awareness events around the world.

Breast cancer will strike about one in eight women in the U.S., according to Breastcancer.org. This year, about 40,000 American women are expected to die of the disease - though death rates have been falling since 1990, apparently as a result of earlier detection through screening and advances in treatment.

And increased awareness of the diease.

  • David W Freeman

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