Evelyn H. Lauder, Champion of Breast Cancer Research, Dies at 75
By CATHY HORYN
Evelyn H. Lauder, a refugee of Nazi-occupied Europe who married into an illustrious family in the beauty business and became an ardent advocate for breast cancer awareness, raising millions for research, died on Saturday at her home in Manhattan. She was 75. The cause was nongenetic ovarian cancer, said Alexandra Trower, a spokeswoman for the Estée Lauder Companies. As the wife of Leonard A. Lauder, the chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies, and as the daughter-in-law of the company’s formidable matriarch, Estée Lauder, Evelyn Lauder had to establish her own place in a family as complex as it was competitive. Mrs. Lauder frequently told the story of how, early in her marriage, she returned to the couple’s apartment to find that Estée had rearranged the furniture more to her liking. When Evelyn and Leonard were dating — it was only their second date — Estée implored her to stay and be the hostess for a birthday party she was giving her son. “So I stayed,” Mrs. Lauder said in an interview in 2008. “What could I do? She was like a steamroller.”
Yet it was clear that Estée was crazy about the young woman, and soon after Evelyn’s marriage, in 1959, she joined the family cosmetics company, then a small enterprise, pitching in wherever she was needed. “I was very strong,” she said. “Having had a childhood like the one I had, I was much more tough than a lot of people. I was one of the few people who spoke my mind to Estée.” Mrs. Lauder learned she had breast cancer in 1989 and soon became a strong voice on behalf of women’s health, though she was always reluctant to discuss her own condition. “My situation doesn’t really matter,” she told a reporter in 1995. She was a creator of the Pink Ribbon campaign, a worldwide symbol of breast health, and in 1993 she founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which has raised more than $350 million.
In 2007 she received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, which developed independently of her breast cancer, Ms. Trower said. Evelyn Hausner was born on Aug. 12, 1936, in Vienna, the only child of Ernest and Mimi Hausner. Her father, a dapper man who lived in Poland and Berlin before marrying the daughter of a Viennese lumber supplier, owned a lingerie shop. In 1938, with Hitler’s annexation of Austria, the family left Vienna, taking a few belongings, including household silver, which Ernest Hausner used to obtain visas to Belgium. The family eventually reached England, where Evelyn’s mother was immediately sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. “The separation was very traumatic for me,” Mrs. Lauder said. Her father placed her in a nursery until her mother could be released and he could raise money. In 1940, the family set sail for New York, where her father worked as a diamond cutter during the war. In 1947, he and his wife bought a dress shop in Manhattan called Lamay. Over time they expanded it to a chain of five shops.
Mrs. Lauder grew up on West 86th Street and attended Public School 9. During her freshman year at Hunter College, she met Leonard Lauder on a blind date. Already graduated from college and training to be a naval officer, Mr. Lauder had grown up on West 76th Street, though in a sense it was a world apart. “He was the first person who took me out to dinner in a restaurant,” she recalled. They married four years later at the Plaza Hotel. Though always at home by 4 p.m. when her two children were little, Mrs. Lauder said she never considered being a stay-at-home mom, in spite of the family’s growing wealth. “I couldn’t bear it,” she said. “I grew up with a working mother.” Mrs. Lauder was also a public school teacher for several years. She held many roles at Estée Lauder, including creator of training programs and director of new products and marketing. In 1989, the year of her breast cancer diagnosis, she became the senior corporate vice president and head of fragrance development worldwide. Mrs. Lauder is survived by her husband; her sons, William and Gary; and five grandchildren. Though Mrs. Lauder, an avid photographer, had a home in Colorado and a penthouse on Fifth Avenue lined with modern art, she and her husband liked to retreat to a plain cabin in Putnam County, N.Y., where Mrs. Lauder might serve guests German food she had prepared. Asked once how she felt about working with her husband in the early days, she replied, “Working with Leonard was a riot.” Indeed, she joked that he had such a sense of business, without family favoritism, that getting an appointment with him was sometimes tough. “It would take me much longer to get a date with him,” she said, “than someone who didn’t have his name.”