Anita Wilde Solomon passed away on July 27, 2015 at the age of 76 with the love and enormous respect of her friends and family. A quiet and modest woman, she had an extraordinary life that she shared with very few people.
Raised in rural Morris County, Anita Wilde excelled early, consistently winning every prize, contest, and blue ribbon for various pursuits such as creative writing, science projects, and her avid piano playing. Her academic career culminated when she graduated as valedictorian from Morris Plains High School. Although she was accepted to her first choice college Vassar, her parents refused to pay for a woman to attend college. However, she persevered and pursued and received a full scholarship to the College of Wooster.
She was the first woman to win a National Science Foundation fellowship in sociology. Passionate about social justice and intent on making change, she believed the field of sociology could provide key insights. She did graduate work at the University of North Carolina, and became a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The Wisconsin Sociology Department was a renowned hotbed of activism, and there she met her future husband Albert Solomon.
Anita and Albert became disillusioned with academia as a vehicle for making change and dropped out to join the civil rights movement. Taking teaching positions at an all-black college in Alabama, they participated in the civil rights actions of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although she never would volunteer the information, if prodded Anita would tell many stories. For instance, traveling to marches where they coordinated to place – assembly line style – one white person in each car filled with black activists; this was done to deter counter protesters and local officials from inflicting violence on the marchers by conferring the protection of one “credible white witness” that could testify in a southern court.
In the late 1960s they moved to Albert’s hometown of Brooklyn, NY to raise a family. Her ex-husband Albert is an artist, a bohemian, and one of the unique characters making New York City so vibrant. But a quiet family life was not in the cards, and Anita found herself a single working mother of a five year old boy. Forced to take any job available, she took a minor administrative position at the New York City Board of Education. Balancing a career and child-rearing alone, she struggled to provide stability for her family and not despair. With dogged determination and staggering competence, she rose through the ranks. After teaching herself about the emerging field of computers, she became the Director of Systems Administration and Operations for the New York City Board of Education. While at the Board of Education she was compelled to become a whistle blower – and key source for a New York Times expose – concerning the improper awarding and mismanagement of public contracts.
She retired to be with her parents in North Carolina and to follow her passion for horticulture. Anita founded Solomon Holly Farm, and devoted her time and energy to her new work. She became a renowned local grower specializing in native ornamental species, and the president of the area chapter of the American Rose Society. After her father passed away, she moved back to New Jersey to be with her son and enjoy her three grandchildren. She took quiet pleasure in beating the pants off of her son at any game of strategy. The math and logic puzzles she did for light entertainment were incomprehensible to her friends and family. She continued to play the piano beautifully right up until her final months. A kind soul she adopted and rehabilitated special needs dogs throughout her life.
If you happened to meet Anita Solomon at a dinner party you would have detected nothing in her demeanor or presence that indicated her brilliance and inner strength. Nor would she have volunteered the information without significant prodding. She passed unassumingly through the world, quietly changing it with each step. Fiercely atheistic, she faced death calmly; she was unwavering in her belief that her time on earth, and her personal significance, was fleeting and not to be fussed about. Among her final words was ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.
She is survived by: her son and daughter-in-law Randall Solomon and Rebecca Hersh, and three grandchildren Lily, Harry, and Sam, all of Highland Park, New Jersey; her brother and sister-in-law John and Mary Wilde, sister and brother in-law Jeanette and Stuart Long, and many loving cousins, nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held in the fall in Highland Park, New Jersey.
In lieu of flowers, please honor her by planting a tree or perennial that is native in your area – a living reminder of a life well lived in the service of others.