Posted: Nov. 3, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

In the midst of the most political week of the year, this little state stopped to reflect.

Election Day was Tuesday. Return Day would be Thursday. In between, Delaware turned its contemplative attention to commit Professor Jim Soles to eternity.

The timing was cosmic.

This middle day always belonged to Soles, the political scientist in his element with the entrails of the election stretched out for him to analyze. With his instinctive knowledge of the electorate, his personal familiarity with the political class and his love of the state, no one did it better.

So there was no other day more fitting to salute him, to meet at St. James Episcopal Church near Newark in the cool and sunny autumn weather with the flag in the churchyard at half staff for a memorial service.

Soles, who was 75, died Friday, and people crowded to the 19th Century walls of the church to remember this most public scholar who turned his professorship at the University of Delaware into a wellspring of elected and appointed officials, judges, lawyers, aides, campaign volunteers and plain good citizens.

If there was any doubt what he meant to the state, and there was none, all anybody had to do was look around.

Joe Biden was there. The governor came. So did the once and future congressional delegation of Tom Carper, Ted Kaufman, Mike Castle, Chris Coons and John Carney. Ditto Beau Biden, the attorney general, and Matt Denn, the lieutenant governor, as well as college presidents and professors, judges, legislators and Cabinet secretaries.

Soles was a proud Democrat, but his counsel knew no party, and this congregation reflected his own vision of civil life, a fellowship of Democrats and Republicans.

There were indelible moments of the day. The vice president of the United States coming through the church door. Catherine Soles Pomeroy, the younger of Soles' two daughters, pinning on a red carnation, the same way her father did as he set off for campus. A boxful of carnations for other mourners to wear in tribute.

Sad to say, many of the same people were at the church in June when Soles bravely laid to rest his wife Ada Leigh Soles, who had been a Democratic state representative and his glad co-conspirator in all of their political endeavors.

Jim Soles' dedication to public life could infect anyone. Even James Bimbi, the rector, confessed to it. He has joined a church coalition for Mid-East peace and mentioned to the congressional delegation right in the middle of his remarks that he would be calling.

The eulogy came from Ed Freel. He was once Soles' graduate assistant but now was the new standard bearer for the bridge between academic and activist politics, a former secretary of state now teaching at the University of Delaware.

Freel gave a grand tour through Soles' life.

There was the North Carolina native, whose early memories of putting up campaign signs for Harry Truman with his grandmother were formative, turning to the study of politics and landing at the University of Delaware to teach some 40 years ago.

"Jim and Ada Leigh didn't realize it then, but they were to become Blue Hens for life," Freel said.

There was the young professor creating a course in practical politics to send his students out to work on campaigns and setting in motion the legacy he would be known for.

There was the foray into candidacy himself, a run for congressman in the Watergate year of 1974 so he would be able to tell his daughter Catherine he stood up to be counted when the country was in crisis. Never mind that he lost.

"Let me be clear about one thing, Jim Soles was not a happy loser," Freel said to laughter.

"Jim Soles, thank you for lighting all of our lives for so long, and your light will live as long as we do."

Soles had a way of talking people into doing their life's work. It was only after they got into it they would find out it was also the hardest thing they ever did. It was those personal scars and joys and accomplishments, so hard earned, that made Jim Soles forever a part of people's lives.

Soles had one last wink left for all the people he refashioned. The final hymn of his memorial service? Come Labor On.