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Red Cross president resigns after difficult year

American Red Cross President Marsha J. Evans  is resigning because of friction with her board of governors, the organization said Tuesday.
Marsha Johnson Evans took over as president of the Red Cross in 2002.Rick Bowmer / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

American Red Cross President Marsha J. Evans, who oversaw the charity’s vast and sometimes criticized response to Hurricane Katrina, is resigning effective at the end of this month because of friction with her board of governors, the organization said Tuesday.

Red Cross spokesman Charles Connor said the board was not unhappy with Evans’ handling of the hurricane response, “but had concerns about her management approach, and coordination and communication with the board.”

Jack McGuire, the executive vice president of the charity’s Biomedical Services, was named to serve as interim president and CEO while a search for a permanent successor to Evans is conducted.

Evans, a former Navy rear admiral and head of the Girl Scouts of the USA, took over as Red Cross president in August 2002 as the organization was shaking off criticism of how it handled some donations sent in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Red Cross emerged from that controversy with promises of greater openness and accountability, but the unprecedented challenges posed by this year’s hurricanes raised new problems. Critics said the Red Cross failed to respond quickly enough in some low-income, minority areas; others faulted it for balking at cooperation with local grass-roots organizations even as it collected the bulk of the relief funds — more than $1.8 billion.

Evans, 58, acknowledged in September that the organization’s response to Katrina and Hurricane Rita had been uneven, and said that the destructive power of the storms — along with the flooding that followed — “eclipsed even our direst, worst-case scenarios.”

Red Cross trying to create partnerships
In recent weeks, the organization has vowed to address some of the criticisms by seeking greater diversity within its ranks and establishing partnerships with local groups.

Evans’ resignation came hours before a House subcommittee hearing in Washington focusing in part on Red Cross’s response to Katrina, including fundraising as well as distribution of aid to evacuees. Among the problems, according to witnesses: poor coordination with other charities in providing shelter, creating gaps in aid particularly in far-flung rural areas, and unclear accounting of its finances.

“’Empty,’ ‘running on fumes,’ ‘dangerously low’ are all terms that the Red Cross used during its 2004 fiscal year to describe the state of its disaster relief fund,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, in a prepared statement before the hearing.

“The Red Cross does not make clear in disaster fundraising pleas its true financial position or the amount of discretionary money it has available to spend on disasters,” he said.

Evans, in a statement Tuesday addressed to her colleagues, said she had been thinking about leaving the Red Cross earlier, but stayed on after Katrina hit to “lead our pivotal response to that epic tragedy.”

“Now, with our successful hurricane response continuing in steady hands, I believe the time is right to step down,” she said. “I look forward to spending more time with my family.”

Charity ‘far better prepared’ now
She praised the services of the 220,000 volunteers who responded to the hurricanes, and described the charity as “far better prepared to face the challenges of the future than when I joined you all in August 2002.”

Evans replaced Dr. Bernadine Healy, who said she was forced to resign over policy disagreements with the board, including the handling of the Sept. 11 donations.

Many donors were upset to learn belatedly that $200 million was set aside for future disasters rather than to help victims of the hijackings. The Red Cross shifted the money back and promised greater accountability in future disasters.

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, who chairs the Red Cross board, praised Evans’ performance, including a reorganization at the Washington headquarters and a strengthening of local disaster response practices.

“We anticipate no major changes in strategic direction, and expect to continue all initiatives currently underway,” McElveen-Hunter said in a statement. “Our focus will continue to be on ensuring a healthy and safe blood supply, preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters, and providing lifesaving Red Cross services in our neighborhoods and, when called, around the globe.”

McGuire, the interim leader, has been with the Red Cross since March 2004; he previously was president of Whatman, PLC North America, a British-based manufacturer of laboratory and industrial products.

As head of Biomedical Services for the Red Cross, he has sought to improve relations with the Food and Drug Administration, which has charged the Red Cross with repeatedly violating federal safety rules in its handling of blood collection.