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Marla Gilson, Longtime Force in D.C., Dies

Marla Gilson, a Capitol Hill presence for decades with stints working for Hadassah, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and several Democratic Party campaigns, has died.

Gilson, who had acute leukemia, died Saturday after entering hospice.

Last winter, hundreds of Gilson’s friends, colleagues and Jews who had heard about her illness registered as bone marrow donors through drives organized on her behalf. A bone marrow donor was identified for Gilson before the screenings took place, but the screenings went forward nevertheless in her honor.

“She would walk on hot coals for the Jewish people, and she has never been shy about speaking out on behalf of others,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder of The Israel Project and a friend of Gilson’s, told JTA in March.

Gilson’s disease became common knowledge after her latest employer, the Association of Jewish Aging Services, fired her after she asked to be allowed to work from home through the summer of 2011 as she recovered from a bone marrow transplant that had been scheduled for April.

Friends, colleagues and acquaintances in Washington’s Jewish community rallied to Gilson’s bedside to support her in her fight to retain her job and also to champion the cause registering Ashkenazi Jews as potential bone marrow donors.

Gilson did not allow friends to visit her at the end of her life, preferring that they remember her as she was, Mizrahi said in an email Sunday.

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