HOLMBERG: Holocaust Museum ouster a battle of wills?

Posted at 11:40 PM, Jul 27, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-28 13:15:28-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- It appears the controversy surrounding the emphatic dismissal of Virginia Holocaust Museum president, director and co-founder Jay Ipson is winding down, but the behind-the-scenes machinations over his ouster remains largely shrouded in mystery.

A month ago that the large and influential board of the museum voted to boot the 77-year-old co-founder out, taking his title, his office and the keys to the place.

“I built this place,” Ipson lamented.

But no longer would it be Jay’s museum. It was a clean break.

The outcry was immediate. How could they do this to the man whose tireless dedication for 15 years played a key role in the development of the Tobacco Row Museum? Supporters were enraged by a whispering campaign that even challenged the historical accuracy of Ipson’s holocaust experience, which helped shape the museum.

A “Jay Must Stay” movement quickly flourished, leading to the announcement that the board of directors would revisit the decision on Thursday.

A villain surfaced in the outster, much like the roll given to University of Virginia rector Helen Dragas during the firing and rehiring of UVa’s president this summer.

Ipson and others fingered the museum’s board chair, Marcus Weinstein, who has donated some $5 million to the museum over the years.

Ipson, a holocaust survivor, aviator and former auto parts store owner, characterized the rift as “two strong-willed people who don’t see eye-to-eye.”

He said his balking at putting Weinstein’s mother’s name over the museum’s synagogue entry was just part of the battle of wills. Weinstein’s money trumped his blood, sweat and tears, he said.

Weistein, meanwhile, hasn’t said a word. The front door of his home was closed politely when CBS-6 stopped by for his side of the story Thursday afternoon.

Marcus Weinstein and his wife, Carole, are among the region’s most active philanthropists, donating millions to University of Richmond and the Jewish Community Center, among many other causes. He made his money developing and managing real estate here and in Charlotte, with thousands of properties.

Some board members say demonizing Weinstein isn’t fair and that while Ipson’s role has been a crucial one, it’s not just his museum and he wasn’t letting go.

“It’s time for a new direction,” one board member said Friday. “Everybody has to move on.”

Another said the clean break, in time, will prove to be the best move for the museum.

On Thursday, the board re-affirmed that Jay must go. He can keep his title as president emeritus, a token gesture bestowed last month that politely says thanks, but seeya.

Officially, board members are keeping their lips sealed about what happened behind the scenes, leaving only board secretary Jay Weinberg to explain that it’s good corporate policy not to discuss personnel issues.

The whole thing has been rather messy, uncharacteristic for the museum and its board of directors.

Ipson said his tenure will stand the test of time.

“Eventually,” he told CBS-6 Friday, “I will be vindicated.”