Mary Woodard Lasker (1901–1994) was a champion of medical research. She and her husband, pioneer advertising executive Albert Davis Lasker (1880–1952), established a legacy of effective philanthropy through their own efforts and their public support of important causes.
Mrs. Lasker was one of the country's best known and most effective activists in the cause of increased public funding for medical research. For decades, she tirelessly persuaded the American public that the national investment in medical research would yield invaluable benefits for human health. Her simple warning was, "If you think research is expensive, try disease!" Mrs. Lasker's early efforts focused on developing public support to advance basic research on cancer. She founded the Citizens Committee for the Conquest of Cancer and took her cause to Congress and the American public as a leading proponent of the National Cancer Act, which was signed by President Nixon in 1971. Her ardent advocacy for greater government funding of all the medical sciences contributed to increased appropriations for the National Institutes of Health as well as the creation of several NIH institutes, including the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Mrs. Lasker's work transformed the medical research enterprise, which earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. As a permanent monument to her efforts, in 1984 Congress named the Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education at the National Institutes of Health.