Mary’s Little Lambs

Suffer little children

No, Mary’s little lambs were not children.

Mary’s “little lambs” were medical researchers that she herded together: adults who were driven to find a cure for cancer, even as the children were suffering and dying: by the thousands.  It was a dilemma: how to cure childhood leukemia, where the medical doctors could do nothing — they didn’t understand what cancer was.  Experimenting on children with a cocktail of toxic chemicals was heart rendering, such that the original doctor who opened the door to that reasearch method, couldn’t do it.

I cannot make one child suffer and die, to save two others.
— Sidney Farber

Robert Moses said about Mary: that she had it all—intelligence, vision, generosity, charm, kindness.

Neen Hunt added this: “she also had courage, passion, and indefatigable energy, and the heart and will to apply her gifts and talents to reduce suffering from disease for people all over the world.”

“The strength of our nation depends on the health of our people. We must once again place the priority on research. It’s good for trade, good for jobs, and vital for all Americans. Medical research is our hope for our children and for the building of a healthy America.”

Mary was strategic…  For that vision was for the future…

‘Mary Lasker’s personal war against disease created a “Kuhnian” paradigm shift in expectations for the role of the federal government in providing support for medical science. Through generous philanthropy, aggressive advocacy, unparallel leadership and strategic lobbying, she led a revolution in the medical research enterprise. Utilizing her wealth, charm, beauty, grace and intelligence, Mary focused the attention of the nation’s most powerful leaders on medical research and its promise for improved human health.’

Mary Lasker


Mary Woodard Lasker, Fieldmarshal Rational, (November 30, 1900 – February 21, 1994) was initially a business woman, and then an American health activist and philanthropist. She worked to raise funds for medical research, and founded the Lasker Foundation.

‘Only one man in a thousand is a leader, and the other 999 follow a woman.’ “Philanthropists, kings, presidents, celebrities, Nobel Prize winners, powerful business men, savvy lobbyists, motivated citizens and the most respected professional scientists of her day joined the legions of “Mary’s little lambs,” and they, in turn, began to lead their own crusades to conquer disease.’ — Neen Hunt

“If you think research is expensive, try disease!”

Hardly more than two percent of the total population, Fieldmarshals are bound to lead others, and from an early age they can be observed taking command of groups. In some cases, they simply find themselves in charge of groups, and are mystified as to how this happened. But the reason is that they have a strong natural urge to give structure and direction wherever they are – to harness people in the field and to direct them to achieve distant goals.

They cannot not build organizations, and cannot not push to implement their goals. When in charge of an organization, whether in the military, business, education, or government, Fieldmarshals more than any other type desire (and generally have the ability) to visualize where the organization is going, and they seem able to communicate that vision to others. Their organizational and coordinating skills tends to be highly developed, which means that they are likely to be good at systematizing, ordering priorities, generalizing, summarizing, marshaling evidence, and at demonstrating their ideas. [Please Understand Me II]

With her second husband, Albert Lasker (who had made a fortune in advertising, among others, Lucky Strike cigarettes), they created the Lasker Foundation in 1942 to promote medical research. The Lasker Award is considered the most prestigious American award in medical research. Eighty-one Lasker laureates have gone on to received a Nobel Prize.  Together, they were the first to apply the power of modern advertising and promotion to fighting cancer. They joined the American Society for the Control of Cancer which at the time was sleepy and ineffectual and transformed it into the American Cancer Society. The Laskers ousted the board of directors. Afterwards, they raised then record amounts of money and directed much of it to research. The American Cancer Society also fought lung cancer through prevention via anti-smoking campaigns. Using TV equal-time provisions, they were able to counter cigarette advertising with their own message. The messages were effective enough that the tobacco companies voluntarily stopped advertising on TV to prevent their broadcast.  Following her husband’s death from cancer she founded the National Health Education Committee.

‘Mary Lasker recalled that at the start of her lobbying career after World War II, “cancer was a word you simply could not say out loud.” Although cancer took nearly 200,000 lives each year, the media did not discuss it, federal spending on cancer research was minimal, and scientists understood it much less well than infectious diseases. When Lasker’s long-time housekeeper fell ill with the disease, she refused to specify the diagnosis. Lasker turned to the woman’s doctor for confirmation, who said that he had sent her to a hospital “called something like the home for the incurable.” Outraged by her housekeeper’s silent fate, Lasker set out to raise cancer awareness and create an institutional base for cancer research unequaled anywhere in the world. She helped to elevate cancer research over other research fields and steered it into new directions, at times over the objection of scientists.’

She played major roles in promoting and expanding the National Institutes of Health, helping its budget expand by a factor of 2000 times from $2.4 million in 1945 to $5.5 billion in 1985.

“Without money nothing gets done.”

mary_lasker_murrow_interviewEdward R. Murrow, while smoking, (who later died of lung cancer) interviewing Mary Lasker. 

openquoteNobody would have me in their laboratory for five minutes. I couldn’t cut up a frog, and I certainly couldn’t perform surgery. I’m better at making it possible for other people.closedquote  — Mary Lasker

Other Fieldmarshal Rationals include: Sheryl SandbergMalala YousafzaiTan LeMuriel SiebertJerry BussJohn AdamsIndra NooyiWilliam Pitt, the YoungerEllen Sirleaf and Joyce Banda, and Margaret Thatcher.

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