Nancy Brinker: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Getty Nancy Brinker

Nancy Brinker is the founder of the Susan G. Komen foundation. On October 10, CNN reported that White House officials had reached out to Brinker and asked her whether she’d be open to consideration for the US ambassador to the United Nations. The current ambassador, Nikki Haley, has said that she will leave her position at the end of the year. President Trump is expected to name Haley’s successor soon.

Brinker has not yet said anything publicly about her interest in the role of UN ambassador. During the Bush administration, Brinker spent two years as the US ambassador to Hungary. She has also spoken about her belief in the power of “medical diplomacy” as a way to bring other nations closer to America.

Here’s what you need to know about Nancy Brinker:

1. Brinker Was CEO of the Komen Foundation but Stepped Down in 2012 Following Controversy over the Group’s Relationship with Planned Parenthood

Nancy Brinker with Bo Derek at a Komen Foundation fundraiser

Nancy Brinker founded the Komen Foundation in 1982, two years after promising her dying sister, Susan, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. The Komen Foundation has grown into the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer. The foundation raises funds and supports research to prevent and cure breast cancer.

Brinker served as CEO of the Komen Foundation until she stepped down in 1982. That’s the same year that the Foundation ran into controversy over its relationship with Planned Parenthood. In December 2011, the Komen Foundation put an end to its donations to Planned Parenthood for breast exams. When the decision became public, it led to a wave of outrage. By February, Brinker announced that her group would start funding the breast exams at Plannned Parenthood again.

Brinker stepped down for the Komen Foundation in August 2012. She said that her resignation had nothing to do with the Planned Parenthood controversy. She told the Wall Street Journal at the time, “I apologized to everyone. I think we all made mistakes and we addressed them and we’re through that and we’re moving on.”

2. Brinker Was White House Chief of Protocol During the Bush Administration

Nancy Brinker watching President Bush during a 2004 Race for the Cure event

Brinker went to work for the George W Bush administration in 2001, when she was appointed to serve as the US ambassador to Hungary. She spent two years in that post. Then in 2007, Brinker took a job as White House chief of protocol.

In an interview with the Washington Diplomat, Brinker said she saw her job with the White House as a means of paying back the “debt” she owed to society at large. “This is my time to give back for years of freedom and everything I had and my family had,” she told the newspaper. Brinker described herself as a “fierce patriot.” She also told the Washington Diplomat that she was excited about the concept of “medical diplomacy,” or sharing US medical knowledge with the rest of the world.

3. Brinker Has Been Criticized for Her ‘Lavish Spending’ & Used to Ask Her Staff to Call Her ‘Ambassador’

In 2012, just before Brinker stepped down from her job as CEO of the Komen Foundation, the Daily Beast carried out a series of interviews with staff at the Foundation. The former employees said that Brinker highly qualified, dedicated, and hard-working; but they also said she was “imposing” and “entitled.” Staff said that she didn’t let them call her “Nancy;” she wanted to be called “Ambassador Brinker.” Brinker had served as US ambassador to Hungary for two years. The Daily Beast wrote,

“In interviews with The Daily Beast, a half-dozen former Komen employees who held a range of jobs at the charity in the past five years expressed similar sentiments, saying the foundation has become dominated by its larger-than-life leader. These people strongly acknowledge Brinker’s accomplishments, praising her immense skill at raising funds for lifesaving cancer research. At the same time, they describe her as an imposing figure who flies first class, prefers five-star hotels, and generally exhibits an entitled air, which, they say, is at odds with the organization’s important mission. Employees don’t call her “Nancy,” these people say. They are expected to call her “Ambassador Brinker.”

4. Brinker, a Breast Cancer Survivor, Said She Could Not Have Beaten Cancer Without the Support of Her Son

Nancy’s sister Susan died after battling breast cancer, in 1980. Susan’s death inspired Nancy to found the Komen Foundation so that she could work for an end to breast cancer. Then in 1984, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She has written movingly about her struggle to overcome cancer, and about the role that her son Eric played in helping her. She said that having her eight-year-old son by her side gave her the strength to keep on fighting.

She wrote, “As a mother, it was supposed to be my role to help my son. It was my responsibility to see that he was strong and healthy. At eight, my son and I suddenly reversed roles. He was my guardian, my protector, my angel. The stress I felt from putting him in that backward role was always subsided by his presence. Eric always reassured me everything would be alright. And I believed him.”

Brinker has been married twice. Her first marriage, to Robert Leitstein, ended in divorce. The couple had one child, a son named Eric. Brinker later married Norman Brinker, the founder and owner of a restaurant chain. Nancy and Norman divorced in 2000, but remained friendly. Norman passed away in 2009.

5. Brinker Grew Up in Illinois & Lives in Palm Beach

In an interview with the Palm Beach Daily News, Brinker said that she first got to know Florida in the 1950s, when her parents would bring the family to Miami for winter vacations. In the 1970s her parents moved down to Florida full time and in the 1980s, Brinker followed. She was living with her husband, Norman at the time. The pair married in 1981 and divorced in 2000.

Brinker was born December 6, 1946, in Peoria, Illinois. Her father, Marvin, worked in real estate and her mother, Eleanor, was a stay at home mother. Brinker had a learning disability as a child but managed to do well at school and eventually graduated from the University of Illinois at Champlain, earning her BA in 1968.

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