Judy Pearson: “Mary Lasker didn’t do what she did for glory and certainly not for money, but preferred to be, as she called herself, a ‘catalytic agent’… to get attention for this desperate need for medical research. There was none being done in the United States in 1940, which is pretty remarkable.”
With October as Breast Cancer and Liver Cancer Awareness Month, the timing of her book couldn’t be better. Judy Pearson, an incredible cancer survivor and thriver herself, first joined us in 2021 to introduce listeners to her nonprofit, A 2nd Act, a place where fellow survivors could share stories to help inspire others. She also talked about her previous book, From Shadows to Life.
“It was a biography—a group biography—of the survivorship movement, and from that book, I learned about the inimitable Mary Lasker,” says Pearson.
Who is Mary Lasker and why isn’t this fascinating woman on our radar? Well, Pearson’s Crusade is the never-before-told story of the woman who raised millions for medical research to help improve the health of all Americans, and likely started the War on Cancer with the passage of the Cancer Act of 1971.
“There was political intrigue behind the Cancer Act, because you had a president [Nixon] who just wanted to be reelected; you had a senator, Ted Kennedy, who just wanted redemption from Chappaquiddick; and then you had Mary Lasker who just wanted to cure cancer,” says Pearson.
Women like Mary Lasker don’t come around too often. She was clearly a woman ahead of her time, and her work continues to save millions of lives. Thanks to access from Columbia University’s three-month long recorded oral history by Lasker herself, Pearson was grateful to share this story with the world.
“I had a picture on my desk, and every day, I would look at her and say, ‘Okay, Mary, so where are we gonna go today? And what are we gonna do today? And, I know you’d really hate this, but we have to do this. People need to know about you,’” says Pearson.
During our conversation about Mary Lasker, you’ll learn about:
- the love of her life, (“the the father of modern advertising” Albert Lasker)
- how she fundraised and “friend-raised”
- what she would think of healthcare today
- who Judy thinks should play Mary Lasker in a movie
One of author Judith Pearson’s favorite quotes is from the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
That could certainly apply to Mary Lasker.
“I really would like readers to realize that yes, Mary Lasker was connected, and she had money, but everybody has to take a first step in reform or in a journey or in whatever floats your boat,” adds Pearson. “Anybody can do this. Anybody can change the world.”
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