She was being fired.
In the e-mail, two board members said that the Association of Jewish Aging Services of North America, where Gilson was president and chief executive, would face “an undue hardship, if not irreparable harm,” if she worked from home. A search for her replacement would begin immediately.
Gilson was stunned, family friends said.
“I think it is hard to fathom how people who are executives for institutions whose mission is to care for the frail and elderly could behave so callously, independent of their legal obligations,” Julie Rabinowitz said.
Gilson’s case has been taken up in Jewish media and is probably headed to court. She is preparing for her transplant and declined to comment.
Gilson took over the association in June. The 51-year-old association, which represents 112 facilities for Jewish elderly in the United States and Canada, including the Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville, hired her for the job after a seven-month nationwide search.
The timing was good for Gilson, 59, an experienced lobbyist and Democratic Party operative. She had been laid off from Hadassah, a volunteer Jewish women’s organization, after the Bernard Madoff scandal forced the group to cut staff. Hadassah has agreed to pay Madoff’s investors $45 million that it made from Madoff-linked investments.
By all accounts, the association board was pleased with Gilson’s performance.
But in December, Gilson experienced flulike symptoms. Friends recall seeing her carving turkeys and doing dishes at a holiday party. Ten days later, she was so weak, she couldn’t walk.
In early January, after a hospitalization, she got the diagnosis: mylogenic and bilineal leukemia. Her best chance for recovery meant chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
Friends and family launched drives to identify suitable marrow donors. Neighbors set up shifts to care for Gilson and dropped off food for family members.
While hospitalized, she was visited by two board members, Chairman Barbra Gold and Chairman-elect Martin Goetz, who were initially supportive.
Over several subsequent conversations, they told her they were worried about how her illness would affect the association. Face-to-face meetings in Washington and some out-of-town travel are part of her duties. In her first seven months on the job, Gilson’s work took her to Dallas, Denver and Florida.
Goetz declined to comment, as did Warren Slavin, an association board member and president and chief executive of the Charles E. Smith Life Communities. In a statement given to Washington Jewish Week, Goetz said, “AJAS is deeply saddened by the unfortunate turn of events that have made Marla Gilson unable to continue in her capacity as President/CEO of AJAS.”