Barbara Gradet, who served as executive director of Jewish Community Services for 12 years, died of a stroke on May 8 while on vacation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband Howard. She was 69.
Under Gradet’s leadership, four agencies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore were consolidated into one to form Jewish Community Services. She directed the process, which merged the staff, service programs and board members of Jewish Family Services, Jewish Vocational Services, Jewish Addiction Services and the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister League.
“It’s a devastating loss,” said JCS executive director Joan Grayson Cohen, who has been at the agency for 26 years. “She was really a vibrant leader and enriching mentor.”
Gradet, who was born and raised in Baltimore, retired in June 2016 and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to her children and grandchildren.
Marc Terrill, president of The Associated, said the news was shocking.
“Although I haven’t seen her since her move to California, I will always remember her as a person full of life,” he said in a prepared statement. “She led Jewish Community Services with compassion and will always be remembered for her leadership in the founding of the organization.”
Gradet’s career included management or executive positions with the Baltimore County Department of Aging, University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, Almost Family Adult Day Care and the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.
In a 2016 interview with the JT, Gradet recalled using everything she learned in her previous positions to lead the formation of JCS. “I found that year to be the most exhilarating and exhausting year of my professional life,” she said.
Cohen remembered Gradet having “a tremendous amount of compassion for those in need,” and as a thoughtful, inclusive leader with a great sense of humor. Cohen recalled when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was going around in the summer of 2014, Gradet convinced her and Jacki Ashkin, senior manager of marketing and development at JCS, to take the challenge.
“So, Jacki and I and Barbara had to be at the JCC in our shorts and T-shirts to engage in the bucket challenge,” Cohen said. “It was hilarious, and the person who had the most fun was Barbara. Her laugh was infectious, her enthusiasm was infectious and that’s an example of how she could get people to do things that nobody would raise their hand and say, ‘Yes, include me.’”
Last week, JCS and Associated staff held a tribute to Gradet. Cohen, Terrill and Rabbi Larry Ziffer spoke, and JCS employees were able to open up and share their thoughts. Cohen had been in touch with Gradet’s husband, and they recorded the memorial for him.
For Barbara Gradet’s successor, the groundwork that made JCS the organization it is today will keep her memory alive.
“A great leader never dies. Their work remains after they’re gone, and JCS really is Barbara’s legacy,” Cohen said. “Although Barbara’s life really ended too early, I think her impact was really greater than some folks who will be given more years than her.”