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Sylvia Lawry 1915-2001.

Sylvia Lawry, who single-handedly launched an international war on MS, founding both the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, died February 24, in New York City. She was 85 and lived in Manhattan.

Long after she retired, she continued to be an officer on the National Board and a full-time volunteer, often working a 12-hour day. "I'll retire when MS retires," she promised a few months before cardiac problems ended her regular presence at the Society's home office last year.

Born Sylvia Friedman in Brooklyn in 1915, she was attending Hunter College with the aim of becoming a lawyer when her younger brother, Bernard, began suffering early symptoms of MS. For almost 10 years, the family pursued "cures". In the spring of 1945, Ms. Lawry placed a classified ad in The New York Times: "Multiple Sclerosis. Will anyone recovered from it please communicate with patient."

She received some 50 replies from individuals as desperate as she to find encouraging news. At that point, Sylvia Lawry took a remarkably brave step. This lone young woman began organizing a comprehensive effort to stimulate and finance scientific research on MS. By the following year, she had gathered 20 of the nation's most prominent neurology researchers and formed the Association for Advancement of Research in Multiple Sclerosis.

In 1947, the organization was renamed the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in recognition of the fact that people affected by the disease desperately needed information and service programs until a cure could be found. That year, the first two chapters were chartered. Ultimately, every state in the union would be served by a Society office offering education, counseling, self-help, equipment loans, and referral programs. Chapters also organize advocacy and conduct energetic programs of fundraising.

At the end of the 1940s, Ms. Lawry lobbied Congress to establish what is now the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Before the creation of NINDS, the federal government had invested about $14,000 in MS-related research. Today, federal funds for MS research top $100 million yearly.

In 1967, the tireless Ms. Lawry founded the International Federation of MS Societies, or IFMSS, to encourage exchanges of scientific findings and successful education and service programs among fledgling MS societies modeled on the American original. The Federation, headquartered in London, has been a catalyst for the MS movement around the world.

But at home, Bernard's health continued to weaken, and he died of MS-related causes in 1973. Sylvia Lawry's determination did not melt away. She redoubled her efforts, serving as executive director of the Society until 1982 and as secretary of the IFMSS until 1997.

She leaves an organization with 135 chapters, branches, and divisions across the U.S. devoting more than $30 million a year to support a peer-reviewed international MS research program and offering services to more than a million Americans. Ms. Lawry was a widow and is survived by her two sons, Stephen and Frank Englander. Contributions in her memory may be sent to the National MS Society or the International Federation of MS Societies, in care of the Society.

Courage, a book about Ms. Lawry's achievements and challenges, will be published this fall by the Ivan R. Dee Company. Look for publication news in the Fall 2001 InsideMS.

"Courage, Vision, and an Exceptionally Warm Heart"

"Sylvia's legacy will continue to inspire all of us who knew or even knew of her," said General Mike Dugan, USAF, Ret., president and CEO of the National MS Society. "She is a brilliant example of the servant-leader. What began as a personal struggle to save her brother became a vision to free the whole world from MS. We will do just that."

"Sylvia Lawry was a private person with a no-nonsense demeanor and an exceptionally warm heart," said Richard Slifka, chairman of the National MS Society. "Sylvia's uncompromising battle for more than a half century to solve the mystery of multiple sclerosis has made her a hero to anyone touched by this devastating disease."
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Publication:Inside MS
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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