It’s been a turbulent eight weeks for Nancy Brinker, who found herself at the center of an explosive controversy after her Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation cut off funding from Planned Parenthood.
She’s stayed mostly under the radar since the story went public January 31, but spoke up Wednesday at a birthday lunch for social titan Adrienne Arsht at Cafe Milano.
Komen’s crisis was a personal blow to Brinker, a former ambassador whose vast political and social connections propelled the foundation’s profile worldwide. As guests went around the table describing their current projects, Arsht stopped when she came to Brinker, telling the other women she thought coverage of the story has been incomplete and “really unfortunate.” Then she turned to reassure her old friend: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
A somber-looking Brinker said that she was working to preserve the foundation’s mission and raise money for D.C.’s annual Race for the Cure June 2nd.
“So far, it looks like it’s going to be okay,” she told us later. “What do they say? ‘Ships come in on calm waters.’ If funding is off in this community, there’s only one thing that will happen: Women in need will suffer.”
Brinker’s daunting task is to rebuild trust in the organization after a bruising ideological fight and what is widely regarded as a self-inflicted public relations disaster by Komen officials. Most of the immediate fallout is over; now they’re struggling to get past it all.
“No one likes a dust up,” said Brinker. “We’ve passed through this. [Planned Parenthood president] Cecile Richards came to Texas and said, ‘We like Komen. Let’s move on. We’re through this.’ But the residual effects in the media has been difficult.”
The local reaction has been mixed: Komen board chair LaSalle Leffall left his leadership role, but remains on the board. Fundraising for the annual “Honoring the Promise” gala at the Kennedy Center in October is “going better than ever,” said Lynda Webster, who’s helping raise money and producing the show. “I haven’t had one person say no. Everybody knows it’s about fighting breast cancer.”
Brinker told us she was optimistic. “All’s well,” she said. “We just need to get people focused on the race.”
Read earlier: Nancy Brinker: The steely force in the Susan G. Komen foundation, 2/14/12