If Lynn Grefe ever agreed with the adage that “you can’t be too rich or too thin,” she publicly denounced it as “dead wrong” after her teenage daughter confided that she was suffering from bulimia and anorexia. That inspired Ms. Grefe to organize a national campaign to promote education and treatment for eating disorders and to convince women whom teenage girls idolize, like fashion models, that being too thin can be fatal.
Ms. Grefe, who was 65, died of lung cancer on April 28 at her home in Edgewater, N.J., her husband, Rick Antosh, said.
Ms. Grefe (pronounced “grief”) was between jobs when her daughter, Nicole, disclosed her eating disorder. By 19, Nicole was 5-foot-5 and 90 pounds. But with her mother’s encouragement she voluntarily entered a six-month treatment program.
“She was scared for me because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness,” Nicole — now Nicole Grefe Landsman — said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
In 2003, Ms. Grefe became the president and chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that seeks to raise public awareness of eating disorders nationwide. The association and its network of affiliates started a help line and a website for young people and advocate for educational programs, access to treatment and insurance coverage.
Lobbying by the association, coupled with the anorexia-related death in 2006 of Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model, prompted the fashion industry to impose guidelines for models. To Ms. Grefe, the guidelines represented a first step.
“I am surprised every time that people say overly thin models do not cause eating disorders,” she said the next year. “Their response looks like a P.R. cover on a real problem. It is like saying tobacco advertising does not cause lung cancer.”
Earlier this year, she wrote on The Huffington Post: “Most of us have probably heard the old adage, You can’t be too thin or too rich… But one of them is dead[ly] wrong.”
Lynn Silber was born in Philadelphia on April 27, 1950, the daughter of Eddie Silber, a police detective and former major league baseball player with the St. Louis Browns, and the former Bert Fillieux, a homemaker. She was raised in Dunedin, Fla., where her parents retired, and then graduated from Florida State University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.
In the 1980s she and her first husband, Edward Grefe, operated a public affairs firm, which handled Republican candidates in New York. She also worked on juvenile justice issues. In 1995 she was named director of the New York Republican Family Committee, which became a voice within the party for abortion rights.
In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by another child from her first marriage, Keith Grefe; two stepchildren, Keith Antosh and Craig Antosh; two grandchildren; and a sister, Sandy Friedel.
Last year, Ms. Grefe upbraided the lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret for an “offensive and demeaning” advertisement proclaiming that a lineup of tall, slim models personified “The Perfect Body.”
“Our goal should be health and respect for our own individuality,” she told Yahoo Style. “Shame on Victoria’s Secret, but this is not exactly a surprise, since they do not in any way set the example for body diversity and self-esteem at all shapes and sizes.”
Ms. Grefe believed that the body mass index as a barometer of health was being applied too rigorously.
She also preached that early intervention is vital in treating eating disorders, and that many cases go undetected, as her own daughter’s did.
The treatment is challenging, too, Ms. Landsman, her daughter, said, “because the thing that would save you is the very thing that you think is poison.”
“What she and I would love people to know is that if you survive the treatment, you can have a really healthy life,” she added. “I’m now married and have a healthy 2-and-a-half-year-old. My mother would like people to know that if her own daughter can do that, anyone can.”