Pink Ribbons and Eric Brinker '98 Create Breast Cancer Awareness

July 1, 2010

ERIC BRINKER '98 and his grandmother Ellie Goodman were at the White House when his mother Nancy Goodman Brinker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last August. The founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure,  Brinker is the World Health Organization's Ambassador for Cancer Control. Eric grew up helping the organization created in honor of his late aunt, and is co-chair of the 2010 Komen Race for the Cure in Peoria.


Sitting by itself on a glass tabletop, a model airplane appears to be a novel knickknack in the office of ERIC BRINKER '98. Closer inspection reveals the Boeing 777 is there for a reason. It has something other planes don't - a pink ribbon painted from nose to tail.


Unveiled in August 2008, the jet reflects American Airlines' dedication to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. A longtime Komen sponsor, the company committed to donating $1 million annually for eight years toward finding a cure for a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. While the airplane carries what is probably the largest breast cancer ribbon in the world, many other "pink" products - from Yoplait yogurt to KitchenAid mixers to New Balance shoes - help fund breast cancer research as well.


It hasn't always been that way. The son of Komen founder Nancy Goodman Brinker, Eric Brinker remembers the early years when companies didn't want to be associated with something negative like cancer. "My mother was very dedicated to fulfilling the promise she made to my aunt, and she was laughed out of board rooms. I think her outrage motivated her," Brinker recalls from his youth. "The lesson I learned from it is, just don't give up."


Brinker's earliest memory is visiting his aunt while spending the summer in Peoria. "I never saw her as being sick," Brinker recalls. "But my mom points out that she was very sick at that time." Brinker's aunt, Susan Goodman Komen, died at age 36 in 1980, and her dying wish provided the inspiration for the international organization bearing her name. It was an era when talking about breast cancer was still taboo. "My aunt asked my mom to promise to change the face of the disease. That promise started here in Peoria."


Two years later when Brinker was seven, his mother told him she had breast cancer. "It was very scary. I still remember exactly where I was when she told me. It was at the same time she was trying to build Komen," Brinker says.


A more positive memory is from just a few months back when Brinker happened to be in the room as his mother received an important phone call. The caller was President Barack Obama with news that Nancy Brinker was being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That led to a once-in-a-lifetime moment - Eric was with her at the White House on August 12, 2009, when she received the nation's highest civilian honor for her work with breast cancer.


"Next to the U.S. government, we (Komen for the Cure) have contributed more money to research than any other source in the world," he says proudly. "One hundred percent of what is raised by our 150-plus Affiliates goes toward our mission," Brinker notes, adding that 75 percent of the funds raised from races stays in that community, and the other 25 percent funds global research.


With a target of 25,000 participants and the goal of raising more funds to provide local grants for mammograms, registration for the 2010 race in Peoria begins on January 1, months earlier than other years. Bradley alumni are encouraged to register as part of Team Bradley. President Joanne Glasser, herself a breast cancer survivor, is honorary chair of Peoria's 25th annual Komen race.


The May 8th race will be Eric Brinker's first as co-chair, although he has helped out at races in Peoria and other cities since they began in the '80s. The event begins at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the Metro Centre, the shopping center Brinker's grandfather built 30-plus years ago. "My grandfather couldn't have been happier that I picked Bradley University," Brinker recalls. Chili's, just across the street from the Metro Centre, is where Brinker worked as a server and trainer all through college. A highlight of his student days was helping open a Chili's in Beijing, China. His father, Norman Brinker, founder of the Chili's restaurant chain, died last June. He presented a McCord Lecture at Bradley in 1996.


Brinker returned to Peoria in 2007 to oversee a portfolio of commercial real estate, including the Metro Centre, splitting his time with marketing consulting work in New York City. In addition, Brinker is a national spokesman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. He always has time to devote to the organization that is now the global leader in the movement to eradicate breast cancer.  Brinker was the Slane Scholar/Artist in Residence  in the Department of Communication for fall 2008.




Printed with Permission Bradley Hilltopics Winter 2010