Mary Woodard Lasker, the philanthropist once called the “fairy godmother of medical research” who waged a personal war on heart disease, cancer and strokes, has died. She was 93.
Mrs. Lasker, who with her late husband established the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation and the Albert Lasker Medical Research awards, died Monday of heart failure at her home in Greenwich, Conn.
The Lasker Medical Research Award, given for significant achievement in basic and clinical medical research, was established in 1944 and is considered second in prestige only to the Nobel Prize. Her last public appearance was in October at the 1993 Albert Lasker Awards luncheon in New York City addressed by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Believing that “money could buy ideas,” Mrs. Lasker sought to reward and encourage researchers in combatting the diseases she labeled “major cripplers and killers"--heart disease, cancer and stroke.
She was considered the driving force behind the creation of the National Cancer Institute and establishing adequate funding for the entire National Institutes of Health. In 1984, the NIH rewarded her efforts by designating the Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education.
In 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Medal of Freedom, and in 1987 the U.S. House and Senate authorized President George Bush to strike a special Gold Medal “in recognition of her humanitarian contributions in the areas of medical research and education, urban beautification, and the fine arts.”
Mrs. Lasker’s more than five dozen awards included the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism in Philanthropy from Johns Hopkins University in 1992.
With her husband, Mrs. Lasker amassed an important French Impressionist art collection but sold it to finance her philanthropy.
Mrs. Lasker is survived by her nephew, James W. Fordyce of Greenwich; two stepchildren, Francis Brody and Edward Lasker, both of Los Angeles, five stepgrandchildren, and two stepgreat-grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation for the Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards program, 870 United Nations Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10017.