NEW YORK — At Ralph Lauren’s 40th anniversary show and black-tie dinner here last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that if asked for a great New Yorker, central casting would send the designer. That sentiment was echoed last Thursday, when Lauren and physician Harold Freeman were honored by the Association of a Better New York and One Hundred Black Men Inc.
The event at the Loews Regency Hotel brought out those close to Lauren, such as his wife, Ricky, son David, brother Jerry, as well as his extended family of senior Polo executives, including Buffy Birrittella, Bette-Ann Gwathmey, Charles Fagan and Scott Bowman. New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein was among the guests, along with ABNY chairman William C. Rudin and One Hundred Black Men president Philip Banks Jr.
Accepting his crystal, apple-shaped award, Freeman, the medical director of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in East Harlem, recalled starting his medical practice in 1967, the same year Lauren began his business. Referring to their first meeting in 2001, when Freeman made a presentation to the designer for the proposed center, Freeman recalled, “He said the simple words, ‘I will help you.’ He was a man who meant what he said.” Lauren’s Center for Cancer Care and Prevention, a partnership between Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and North General Hospital, opened in May 2003.
Banks praised Lauren for being the first designer to give African-Americans a real opportunity in fashion, citing designer Jeffrey Banks and model Tyson Beckford as examples.
“Our honoree is the epitome of the word brotherhood,” he said.
Lauren recalled his youth in the Bronx, when his mother disclosed that she had found a lump in her breast. Her doctor suggested going to a specialist downtown, but she was frightened to make the journey. Patient navigation — helping patients make their way through the medical system to get the best care — is crucial, he said.
Lauren said that if he had to be remembered for something, building the cancer center would be key. “If I saved one life, I think I have done my job,” he said.