Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker
Independent Women’s Forum
Woman of Valor Award Dinner
Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium
Tuesday October 9, 2007
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
“The Character of Our Country”
Thank you, Ted [Olson] and Bonnie McElveen Hunter, for your very generous words, and thank you Ted for your life’s work-your service to country and your incredible sacrifice.
Members of Congress, Justice [Clarence] Thomas, so many distinguished guests.
On any occasion, it would be an honor to be recognized by the Independent Women’s Forum-a bold voice for women led by a brave band of women: Michelle Bernard, Heather Higgins and all the IWF founders and Board of Directors.
But it is a high honor indeed when the award bears the name of Barbara K. Olson. And although I only had the privilege of meeting Barbara a few times, I got a glimpse of her spirit, which was unforgettable, and her courage, which was indefatigable.
As Ted has said elsewhere, Barbara “saw no limits in the people around her, and she accepted no limits on what she could accomplish.” That is not only a description of Barbara Olson’s character, it is a charge to us all, and one-as I accept this honor-that I pledge to keep.
And it is humbling, deeply humbling, to accept this award as we remember and salute a woman of great courage and a generous friend to Susan G. Komen for the Cure-Congresswomen Jo Ann Davis.
And we pay loving tribute to another friend and visionary who accepted “no limits” in her life. Judge Silberman and entire the Silberman family, through you, Ricky is here with us tonight, and I thank you for sharing her courageous spirit.
In this world, no one stands or survives alone. And tonight, I am honored to recognize loved ones and friends without whom I would not be standing here today:
My son, Eric, who through my decades of advocacy tolerated more pink ribbons than any young man should have to endure.
My mother, Ellie Goodman, who always taught my sister Susan and me to be stewards of the world around us and who teaches me still at 87 years old.
And my extended family from Susan G. Komen for the Cure: from our national headquarters team in Dallas; from our national board-Alexine Clement Jackson; from our local Affiliates in Arlington, Richmond and Roanoke, and; the wife of our former chairman-the legendary Dr. LaSalle Leffall, Jr.-and a great friend of Komen in her own right-Ruthie Leffall.
And I want to dedicate this award, first, to Susan, whose love, courage and strength in life-and death-have always inspired me in my life.
Second, to my father, Marvin Goodman: a fierce patriot, who taught us that each of us has the responsibility to give back to our country; and a man of humble origins who believed in personal responsibility and became a successful entrepreneur, always saying, “With perseverance and courage, you can overcome anything-except stupidity!”
Several months ago-just short of his 91st birthday-Dad passed away. And on one of his final days, he looked at me and said, “Nancy, I want you to make a promise to me-that you will return to public service to serve this country and this President.”
So it is with great pride-and love-that I fulfill that promise and now serve as U.S. Chief of Protocol.
There’s an old story about the legendary Clare Booth Luce. She used to give her women reporters the following advice for how to succeed in Washington of the 1940s and 50s:
“Get dressed up and come into the office late…after you come from your hairdresser.”
“Come in, see people, go to lunch and leave early.”
“This way you won’t irritate the men too much.”
“You can’t get too aggressive.”
Well, about 25 years ago in my living room in Dallas I recruited a handful of volunteers who had been touched by breast cancer and we decided to “get aggressive!”
We decided to change the culture and end the silence and shame of this disease. And as our small local effort grew to a global movement of millions, we weren’t afraid to “irritate the men too much.”
Then, about 18 years ago, the women of Washington decided to “get aggressive.” Inspired by pioneers like Betty Ford and galvanized by the struggle of women like Sandra Day O’Connor and Carolyn Deaver, they created the National Race for the Cure: “Founding Mothers” like Marilyn Quayle, Rae Forker Evans, Ginger Pape and others, and allies on Capitol Hill like Tamra and Ken Bentsen, who we are proud to call the new chairman of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
And the great progress we’ve seen-the new culture of awareness and early-detection, revolutionary new drugs and treatments, more than two million breast cancer survivors alive today-it is because individuals, first a few, then more, then millions, embraced a principle long championed by IWF: personal responsibility!
And I suggest to you tonight that this same spirit is exactly what we need today to confront a growing crisis now facing our country, indeed the world.
When cancer kills more than 560,000 Americans every year-almost as many Americans as died in all the wars of the 20th century…
With the baby boom generation about to unleash an unprecedented cancer boom…
When racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, the uninsured-including women right here in Washington, with its shocking breast cancer death rate-are less likely to receive quality cancer care and therefore more likely to die…
And when it takes a high-profile diagnosis-a Tony Snow or an Elizabeth Edwards-for cancer to make the headlines…
Then we are facing a national crisis-not only of cancer, but of complacency!
And when I travel the world, hearing women in the Middle East say that losing their breasts could mean losing their husbands…
When the survivors at our first-ever global advocate summit in Budapest say that for so many back home-from Latin America to Africa to Asia-diagnosis is still a death sentence…
When cancer kills some seven million people every year around the world-more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined…
When the number of new cancer cases in expected to double in the coming decades, with devastating social and economic consequences for entire countries…
And when a Palestinian oncologist in the West Bank tells me he fears being overwhelmed by this coming “cancer tsunami”…
Then we are also facing a global crisis!
But we need not-and we cannot-retreat in despair! Because with increased awareness and with screening and treatments already available today, the majority of these cancers can be prevented or treated, saving millions of lives every year!
As the wealthiest, most medically advanced nation on Earth, we-the United States-not only have the opportunity to help, we have a moral obligation! Because if America does not lead, if we do no act to avert this “cancer tsunami,” the lives of millions will be lost.
My friends, this is not a problem of politics. When it comes to cancer, there are no Republicans or Democrats, no conservatives or liberals. The historic doubling of the NIH budget occurred under a Republican Congress and two presidents-one Democrat, one Republican.
Nor is this simply a problem of money. Even with recent cuts, federal funding for cancer research-in historic terms-remains at record highs.
No. I say to you tonight: this is a matter of national and global will-whether we can summon the will, as a nation, as an international community, to make this killer-cancer-a national and global priority!
I believe we can.
And I believe that those of us in this room-the leaders in government, business, academia, health care and media-we must be the ones to summon that will!
And I believe we will.
Why? Because in these thirty years-as an advocate, as an ambassador-I have seen the character of our country, the patriotism, the passion to serve, the pursuit of justice and equality.
I saw it in a father named Marvin Goodman, in a daughter, sister and mother named Susan G. Komen and in the millions who have carried on her fight.
We all saw it in leaders like Barbara Olson, Ricky Silberman and Jo Ann Davis who inspired so many with their voices and their valor.
And I see it here tonight, in patriots who remind us-whether it’s fighting cancer or spreading freedom-there is no substitute for American leadership rooted in American values.
Thank you so much for this great honor. And thank you for showing-as Alexis de Tocqueville observed more than two centuries ago-that “America is great because she is good.”
God bless you all.