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The Gift of Gratitude: Leonard A. Lauder Gives $10 Million to the School of Nursing

Anyone who has spent time in a hospital, as a patient or at a loved one’s bedside, arrives at an inevitable insight: Nurses—skilled, tireless, and empathetic—are indispensable. For Leonard A. Lauder, that realization came over the years he supported his wife, Evelyn ’58. Originally diagnosed  with breast cancer, Mrs. Lauder succumbed  to nongenetic ovarian cancer in 2011. Through it all, says Lauder, “I was so impressed with  the nursing care.”

To show his appreciation, Lauder, chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. and one of New York City’s most generous philanthropists, donated $10 million to Hunter’s Nursing School. The gift, from the Lauder Foundation, creates the Evelyn H. Lauder Nursing Fund to support Evelyn H. Lauder Faculty Scholars and Evelyn H. Lauder Scholarships. It will fund salaries and research to attract faculty, provide scholarships for students, and purchase and maintain rapidly changing nursing technology, making a great school even better—and is being put to use already. “Two students were in jeopardy of having to leave the nursing program,” says Gail C. McCain, the school’s Joan Hansen Grabe Dean. “The Lauder gift provided them the necessary scholarships to remain in school.”

And those nurses, when they graduate, will be needed. Healthcare reform is bringing medical care to millions of people who didn’t have it before. Profound changes in science and technology have radically transformed nursing practice—and education. Designated a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League of Nursing, Hunter’s nursing school is leading the way, for instance, by partnering with the Weill Cornell Medical Center in pioneering translational research, “bench to bed” technology that delivers innovations from the laboratory to the patient. In addition to offering its prestigious undergraduate and master’s degrees, Hunter graduated its first Doctors of Nursing Practice this year.

Leonard Lauder’s gift is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman who lived a remarkable life. Evelyn—her family name was Hausner—was a native of Vienna who was still a baby when her parents fled the Nazis, first to Belgium, then to England, then to New York City, losing all their possessions in the process. She graduated from Hunter College High School and was a freshman at the College when she went on a blind date with a dashing U.S. Navy officer trainee named Leonard Lauder. “He was the first person who took me out to dinner in a restaurant,” she recalled years later.

After she and Leonard married, Evelyn became a public school teacher before joining the cosmetics company that Estée Lauder, her formidable mother-in-law, had founded. “It wasn’t an empire then,” Evelyn recalled. “My husband didn’t have an office. I didn’t have an office.” But she did have the insights gained though her Hunter anthropology studies, which helped her excel at early behind-the-counter jobs. In time she became one of Estée Lauder’s top executives.

Evelyn Lauder, founder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), one of the largest nongovernmental funders of breast cancer research in the world, also launched the distribution of the now-famous pink ribbon.

The Estée Lauder Companies fund a BCRF research grant to support the research of Hunter biology professor Jill Bargonetti.

Thanks to Leonard Lauder’s gift, Evelyn’s generous spirit lives on. “Decades from now,” says President Jennifer J. Raab, “when a Hunter-trained nurse helps a child somewhere fight a  terrible illness, that will be Leonard Lauder’s gift in action, still rippling out across the world, touching lives—and saving them.”

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