DALLAS – As her sister was dying from breast cancer, Nancy G. Brinker made a promise to her: She would do everything she could to end the disease.
Brinker fulfilled that solemn commitment by founding a breast cancer charity in 1982 that grew into the world’s largest – a national fundraising powerhouse that has invested $780 million in research and $1.3 billion in services such as screening and education over the last three decades.
Now Brinker, the public face of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is stepping down as CEO, about six months after the organization’s hotly debated decision to end funding for breast screenings through Planned Parenthood. The move was quickly reversed after an onslaught of criticism but ended up stirring anger on both sides of the abortion debate.
Brinker, 65, will move to a new role focusing on fundraising and strategic planning.
She’s wanting now to kind of get away from the day-to-day operation as CEO, Komen spokeswoman Andrea Rader said. She said Brinker will concentrate on growing the global work, working on the strategy and of course raising the funds, and she will still have a major role in the organization.
On Wednesday, the group also announced that Komen President Liz Thompson will step down next month, and two board members are leaving as well.
After the Planned Parenthood episode, at least a half-dozen other high-ranking executives resigned, and organizers of many Race for the Cure events – the group’s signature fundraiser – have seen participation decline.
Rader said neither Thompson nor Brinker was available to answer questions Thursday. But she insisted their moves were not the result of the Planned Parenthood decision, noting that Brinker has been CEO only since 2009 and wanted a different focus.
Thompson, she said, had been thinking of making a change for a while but had agreed to stay on until the controversy died down.
Komen has said the decision to pull Planned Parenthood funding for breast screenings came from new criteria barring grants to organizations under investigation. At the time, Planned Parenthood was the focus of an inquiry by a congressman acting with encouragement from anti-abortion activists.
Komen policy chief Karen Handel, who resigned but said she stood by the decision to pull the funding, said the charity was concerned that some Roman Catholic dioceses had encouraged believers not to give to Komen because it supported Planned Parenthood.
Ann Greenhill, executive director of Komen’s greater Forth Worth affiliate, said that while the changes at the top may appease some people, in my heart I know that’s not the reason they did this.
She said Brinker is especially suited for her new role: In the early days, people talk about when she was on the phone and she would not take no’ from people for an answer when they were not going to support Komen.
She would not hang up the phone. Boy, she has the passion.