At the age of 40, after Sherry Lansing, the first female President of Production at 20th Century Fox, had achieved success in the film industry and had “seen her dreams come true,” she lost her mother to ovarian cancer. As a result of her mother’s battle, Lansing was inspired to devote her life to funding cancer research. Recently, when she spoke to Chatham Hall students, she described her mother as a generous woman who always gave her time and offered to help those in need.
Growing up in a charitable household gave Lansing the impetus to give back throughout her career. “Losing my mother to cancer was the motivating factor that really got me involved in cancer research because I loved my mother so much, and I could honor her memory by raising money for cancer research, so that, one day, no one will have to suffer as she did,” Lansing said.
Lansing, a co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), explained, “Finding a cure for cancer would be the greatest dream I could ever imagine in my lifetime and cancer would not be the horrible disease that it is.” Describing her mother as one of her many role models and influences, Lansing continued, “Cancer research is happening quickly, but also slowly. If my mother were diagnosed with ovarian cancer today, she would probably have the same outcome. A lot of money goes into cancer research, but it’s not enough. I will feel frustrated until the day when cancer is no more. I’ve lost too many loved ones and friends to cancer. It’s sad, disappointing, and painful to watch, but like any problem, you just keep moving forward; you have to.”
While Lansing was at Chatham Hall as a Leader in Residence, she met with students in small groups for meals and discussions about topics ranging from cancer research to Leonardo DiCaprio. Lansing concluded her stay with a keynote address, A Conversation with Sherry Lansing, in which she responded to questions from students, faculty, and members of the community. When asked which obstacles impeded her success in the film industry, Lansing said, “The biggest obstacle was myself. I had to dream more and find the self confidence to go after those big jobs. Whether it is your mother, father, a minister, a rabbi, or a therapist, when you don’t have the self confidence to get to where you want to be, go talk to someone about it. I did that at a young age, and I believe that allowed me to dream big dreams and then to think I actually could make those dreams happen and not be frightened.”
Lansing, a 1966 graduate of Northwestern University, worked as a math teacher before moving on to various jobs in film, including acting and producing. She is the founder of the EnCorps Teachers Program, which “retrains mid-career and retired professionals from the technology sector to serve as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers in California public schools.” In addition to being the President of Production at 20th Century Fox, Lansing has headed her own production company, served as Senior Vice President at Columbia Pictures and as the chair of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures. At Paramount, Lansing oversaw the production of over 200 films, including Forrest Gump and Titanic. As the founder and chair of the Sherry Lansing Foundation, Lansing is a philanthropist in the areas of health and education. In addition to numerous other accolades, Lansing has earned an Oscar for her humanitarian work. Obviously, the cause about which Lansing is most passionate is cancer research.