By  on October 22, 2008

NEW YORK — In four decades, Ralph Lauren has made philanthropy a key component of his career, championing causes from workplace equality to HIV/AIDS and cancer.

On Tuesday evening, Empire State Pride Agenda, the New York organization working toward equality and justice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities, honored Lauren with the Douglas W. Jones Leadership Award at its annual fall dinner.

Lauren himself was unable to attend due to the death of Susan Lauren, his brother Jerry’s wife, earlier that day. But he was well-represented at the dinner by Roger Farah, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.’s president and chief operating officer; Jacki Nemerov, executive vice president; Wayne Meichner, president and chief operating officer of Polo’s Retail Group; Oscar Cohen, executive director of the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation; Alfredo Paredes, executive vice president of global creative services, Polo store development and home collection design, and Charles Fagan, executive vice president of global retail brand development.

Emcee Whoopi Goldberg added a light touch to the evening, joking about Colin Powell’s “coming out” and raising awareness to the continued fight for equality.

Gov. David Paterson received thunderous applause and several standing ovations — “Which movie was I in to receive this award?” he joked — and his keynote address highlighted advances in gay rights and the need to do even more.

“Now that’s a governor I feel a whole lot better with on our side,” said Alan Van Capelle, Empire State Pride Agenda’s executive director.

Van Capelle then gave a heartfelt speech about Lauren, and told the crowd the designer had set a powerful example about making fundamental change happen, with the knowledge that even the smallest actions can have a large impact globally.

“Ralph Lauren has understood this,” he said. “This is a leadership award to inspire people to be their better selves, and that is what Ralph Lauren has done his entire life.”

The evening raised $1.1 million.

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