The strong voice in women's health, and the daughter-in-law of Estée Lauder, was 75

By Sara Hammel
Updated November 13, 2011 09:30 AM
Evan Agostini/AP

With the nation awash with pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Evelyn Lauder certainly left her mark.

Lauder, the daughter-in-law of the late cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder, died Saturday at her Manhattan home from complications of non-genetic ovarian cancer, according to reports. She was 75.

It was Evelyn, along with her friend and former Self editor-in-chief Alexandra Penney, who created the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness in 1992. Lauder learned she had breast cancer in 1989, though she brought little attention to her own battle, instead focusing on women’s health in general.

She recently reflected on the campaign’s origins, a time when she and her husband, Leonard, paid for the little bows handed out at department store makeup counters to remind shoppers about breast examinations. Evelyn also founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which has raised more than $350 million.

“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 Estée 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, according to an AP report.

“Evelyn Lauder was an amazing woman and her phenomenal work for breast cancer will never be forgotten,” Hurley said in a statement. “She inspired me in so many ways and I learnt so much from her. She was a wonderful friend to me for over 17 years and I will miss her terribly.”

Shortly after marrying Leonard A. Lauder, the chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies, in 1959, Evelyn began working in the family business and went on to have a long career as an executive in the company. She was born Evelyn Hausner in Vienna, Austria, and later escaped Nazi-occupied Europe with her parents before settling in the U.S.

Leonard and Evelyn Lauder’s son William is executive chairman of Estée Lauder Companies, and son Gary is managing director of Lauder Partners LLC, a technology investment firm.

“My mother carried the torch of our Company heritage and the values that were passed to her by my grandmother, Mrs. Estée Lauder,” William said in a statement.

“My mother and father were life partners as well as business partners. They nurtured the culture and growth of the Estée Lauder Companies, 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.”

• Reporting by LIZA HAMM