Judy Solomon, Entrepreneur

The "Bakersfield Sign".Image via Wikipedia

Judy Solomon was my mother.  She died this past week, taken away at the early age of 73.  Old enough to have lived a full life yet young enough to have had her life cut short.  I always thought she would live to the ripe old age of 90 something, but life doesn’t always turn out as expected. 

Judy came from a generation of women who didn’t feel complete without a man.  They got married early because god forbid you weren’t engaged before you graduated college.  She would have liked for someone to take care of her financially and provide a good life for her and her family. But because it didn’t work out that way, she took the reins into her own hands. 

Judy was a daughter of an entrepreneur.  Her father was a merchant who had opened up and owned a few shoe stores in Bakersfield, CA when she was a young girl.  When he died, he left the business to his son. But the business didn’t survive that transition for very long. We used to say that if Judy had taken over the business, there would have been a chain of shoes stores across the country.  She had a nose for business. 

When we were young, Judy was always searching for her own identity.  I could feel it. Our early years were spent in Los Angeles where she stayed home, watched the kids and played bridge with her friends.  She was an amazing card player.  My father took a job as a Professor at the University of Michigan. The shock of the cold and snow and being taken away from Los Angeles threw her for a loop.  She renovated an entire house to keep her busy and tried to find a community of friends.  I still have visions of her taking an axe to a wall in her bedroom. 

Our next move was to Arlington, VA where we lived for a year.  That was probably the beginning of the end of my parent’s marriage.  No doubt my Mom felt lost and lonely in yet another location with three kids in tow longing to return to California.  She took up painting as a way to express herself and then she read The Feminist Mystique by Betty Friedan.  She read that book and said to herself, this book is talking about me. 

A year later we moved to Potomac, MD and it was here that my Mom decided that staying at home was killing her.  She needed her own identity, she needed something to call her own, she needed something that intellectually challenged her, she wanted to make her own money.  And so her life as an entrepreneur began. 

My Mom opened the Green Scene in Georgetown along with our neighbor just as the plant generation was exploding.  I remember spending hours in Georgetown in her store.  Not only were they selling plants to locals, they were doing offices and large home jobs.  They created a business. 

I don’t remember the entire time-line but as the business ended so did my parents’ marriage.  She then started a magazine for kids called Getting There.   That is when she began creating content, selling ads and building an audience. If she was doing that now, it would have been a blog.

It became apparent to her that Getting There was not going to get her there financially and she enrolled in a short course at American University.  I don’t remember what the class was but she took a job soon afterward at NADA; National Automobile Dealers Association.  She did not enjoy working for a large company but it was bringing home the money and she had three kids who she had to feed and clothe.  A large company from Japan came into the space and decided to lure her away with a nice sum of cash.  One week after she went with them, they decided not to go forward with the business but they paid my Mom for a year in good faith. 

It was with that money that Judy Solomon Associates was born.

She grew the company bringing in a variety of trade magazines that she serviced by growing their ad base.  At one point, there were five people working for her.  It was quite an impressive business.  She was making cash, she was running her own business and she was enjoying her life.  She had created the financial rewards that she had always wanted with the flexibility an entrepreneurs life style provides.  She was competitive although hated confrontation and wanted to live life on her own terms.  The business truly consumed her.  She was determined to be financially successful. 

I always wonder what her life would have been like if she had been born in another generation.  She always stayed on the cutting edge not only keeping up on the latest fashion trends but also the latest music and technology.  She was part of a generation that didn’t want to be the At Home Mom yet wasn’t really sure how to create that balance.  She was always peeking over the fence thinking that someone’s lawn was a bit greener than hers.  She was always looking for an identity outside of being a Mom and through many tries finding herself a successful entrepreneur while still yearning for the comfort of someone to take care of her financially.  The push-pull of that made her a very layered and sometimes complicated person. 

Her quest for her identity was not always easy on the three kids.  The refrigerator was perpetually empty and we all did our own laundry and most times one of us made dinner although Judy was an outstanding cook.  I always felt that we were living under her roof as a group of independent people taking care of ourselves as we went about our daily life.  It bonded us yet also made us adults quickly. 

There are always pros and cons to being a stay at home mother or a mother who goes out to pursue their own identity in the world.  Sometimes it is for pure financial reasons as it was for my Mother but it really was her love of creating her own business and destiny.  It isn’t easy having a balance.  In fact it is almost impossible.  I do believe each generation gets better at it and the shifting roles between partners are changing.  She was a single Mom who rolled up her sleeves and did what she felt she needed to do for herself as well as her family.  As she would say many times, “I did the best I could do”. 

It really has not hit me yet that my Mom is gone.  There will be many moments over the next few months where I will reflect on her and our relationship. One thing that always resonates with me about my Mom is she was a DIY girl, a tenacious entrepreneur who kept her eye on the carrot and whenever lemons came her way she always seemed to be able to make lemonade. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Brittany Laughlin

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. She sounds like an amazing woman. And you’re right, for better or for worse, “life doesn’t always turn out as expected.”

    1. Gotham Gal

      That is for sure

      1. aarondelcohen

        Joann:Now I know why I read your blog. 2 months ago, My mom died at 74 . She, too, was a Washington DC entrepreneur — the owner of Politics and Prose bookstore. The Washington Post memorialized her here: http://wapo.st/9fffSp … I found writing about her illness and death very therapeutic. My eulogy is here: http://bit.ly/b8Bwlq. I know Fred and Jerry a little bit, but I hope I meet you someday. I’ve really enjoyed my time off to process. I hope you do as well.Aaron

        1. Gotham Gal

          thanks Aaron. I will read them both. I definitely need some time toprocess.

        2. ShanaC

          My condolences to you as well.

  2. dave

    Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing your mom’s life with us. 🙂

  3. stephen

    Thank you for sharing that, it was quite lovely. Sorry for your loss.

  4. zubinwadia

    My deepest condolences to you and your family. I fear such days more than my own end. May you find fortitude and joy in other avenues to lift you through this gloom.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Much appreciated

  5. Markschwietz

    Thanks for peeling away some of the layers. A blog with whole heartedness. Your mom is smiling. She done good.

  6. David Noël

    Your mother sounds like an exceptional woman, thank you for sharing her story with us. I’m really sorry to hear about your loss!

    1. Gotham Gal


  7. Carl Rahn Griffith

    RIP X

  8. johndodds

    My sincere condolences to you and the rest of the family.

  9. RichardF

    Really sorry to hear about your family’s loss, Joanne. That’s a moving a tribute you’ve written. Take care.

  10. rachel

    Thinking of you – I’m so sorry to read this news.I also get the line “I did the best I could” from my mom who was a single working mom. If we had lived in a generation of Fresh Direct and Amazon, the fridge would have been stocked!

    1. Gotham Gal

      it gets easier for each generation.

  11. Debbie Stier

    Beautiful post Joanne. Your mom sounds like she was amazing person.Did we discuss that my mom is named Judy too and her fridge was always empty too? (still is!)What a great tribute.Have a wonderful trip. xxx,D

    1. Gotham Gal

      we did not discuss that. more on that later!xo

  12. DonRyan

    Condolences for the loss of your mother. She sounds like an amazing woman.

  13. ellen

    I am very sorry to hear about your loss. She sounded like a wonderful role model and Mom. I hope she did not suffer with illness. I am sure she is very proud of her daughter and grandchildren and their accomplishments.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks ellen. i think she was more proud of us than i ever realized.

  14. Halley Suitt Tucker

    I was struck by your comment, “I always thought she would live to the ripe old age of 90 something” which was exactly my feeling about my mom’s passing … too soon … and my sisters and I all thought she’d outlive my dad by decades. Where we get these notions I don’t know, but you give us a nice big CARPE DIEM cocktail to start off the excellent post here, thanks! Steady on in the rocky seas which follow such losses,

    1. Gotham Gal

      carpe diem is right. it is when your parents get into their 90’s you wonder how much longer do they have. you don’t think about that when they are 73.

  15. markjosephson

    Joanne, so sorry for your loss. What a nice post to remind us to all take a moment to think about the important stuff — one day at a time! Enjoy your trip. Mark

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks Mark. Definitely the important stuff.

  16. ceonyc

    I feel very fortunate to have met your mom at one of the USV dinners a few years ago–we were seated right next to each other. She was really great and we talked for quite a bit. At the time, I didn’t place the name and it hadn’t occurred to me who she was. I found her to be a lot more interesting and engaging than many of the investor types you run into at those types of things and remember thinking that I got a lucky seat. Please accept my deepest condolences.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks Charlie. She was definitely one bright engaging woman even until thevery end.

  17. Nate Quigley

    Wonderful tribute. Thank you for sharing.

  18. njs

    Deepest condolences to you and your family on your loss. Clearly your Mom was an amazing person. She helped make you in to the wonderful Mom/wife/entrepreneur et al you are today. Her legacy will live on within you and her grandchildren

  19. William Mougayar

    Very touching tribute…Sincerest condolences to you & family. Amazing that you can share it that way with your readers, and how the Internet binds us in moments of joy and sadness.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks William. It is amazing how the Internet binds us.

  20. bfeld

    A beautiful eulogy. My heartfelt condolences.

  21. Mike Hart

    My sincerest condolences. Mothers are very special and never to be forgotten. My mother passed 5 years ago at 77 after a battle with Parkinson’s and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her in some manner.

    1. Gotham Gal

      that must have been painful to watch. i am sure that there will besomething, every day, that will remind me of her.

  22. Robert

    Joanne – I am so sorry for your loss but so grateful you shared these memories of your mother. Makes me think about what is really important. And I’m picking up the phone right now to call my partents.

    1. Gotham Gal

      very nice call!

  23. Jen

    A beautiful post for what sounds like a beautiful woman. Thank you for sharing. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  24. Atlanticgull

    Isn’t life odd? I grew up in DC and have memories of visiting your mom’s store with my mother. I just called my mom and told her your sad news and she told me she’s fairly sure the crown of thorns growing in her solarium right now is the daughter of a plant she bought from your mom. Your mom lives on.My thoughts are with you, Joanne.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. Life is definitely one degree of separation. If you remember theterrariums (which were so big then), might have been made by me. I haddislocated my elbow one summer and summer camp ended up being summer at theGreen Scene.

  25. ShanaC

    Blessed is the Judge of Truth. You spoke a truth about her, and you are lucky to have her as a model it sounds.

  26. Tereza

    RIP JudyJoanne thank you for a very real tribute to a real woman. Not perfect –who is?– but perfectly real struggles of identity and purpose. There’s infinite humanity in that. When perfect disappears it can go unnoticed. When a human disappears, it’s a sad and lasting moment.Please accept my condolences. Losing your mom sucks, no matter how you slice it. It changes you.Wishing you warm sunshine with your own family on your trip. You’re a terrific mom.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Tereza. You are spot on, it sucks

  27. dowdle

    Your post is a beautiful tribute to your mom and wonderfully articulates how the decisions she made shaped your life.While your post is a reminder to appreciate each day with our parents, it’s also a reminder how the subtleties and nuances of how we interact with our own children will have a lasting impact.Your post is a family treasure that will help future generations understand how their lives were shaped by Judy.I’m very sorry for your loss.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Mike. Great comments. I know very well that the decisions we makeon how we raise our children leave a lasting impression……forever.

    2. Gotham Gal

      Being a kid is always complicated. Getting older and seeing your life vsyour parents is also complicated. Always rebellion and emotion. Nomatter…it isn’t easy. Thanks for sharing

  28. twinsrcool32

    Joanne,I am so sorry for your loss. You touched upon her life so eloquently — that I know she would be proud.Andy M.

  29. Mark Essel

    I look forward to learning more about Judy through your writing. The struggle of juggling two worlds is a lesson and a legacy.

  30. benny1

    Joanne,She was definitely a special lady …and as I read the story of her life I can’t help but think she was one of the woman that paved the way for all of us to pursue our lives and dreams…that tug of war between being a stay at home mom and feeling that we all need to do something more to make us feel whole …an inspiration to us all …RIP Judy….xxgail

    1. Gotham Gal

      Well put

  31. paramendra

    My condolences. Your best post ever.

  32. Dan Conway

    Sorry to hear of your loss. I too grew up with a single mom in Potomac in the ’70s. I’d bike to the Safeway in the village sometimes to stock the empty ‘fridge. Interesting times for sure.

  33. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    My mother is about that age, my father a decade older. I can’t bear to think of losing either of them. 73 is too young to die. Like yours, our family life has definitely been a ride, mostly because I am “unconventional”, and they were (and often still are ;>) afraid for me. I take risks, I live adventure. I feel like I really know Judy from your tribute. We understand a lot more about our parents when we look at the breadth of their lives. I hope our kids know us this well at the end. Take care, travel safe. XOXO

  34. charlessmith

    I am very sorry to hear of your loss- your post is a great tribute. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  35. Carolsandler

    Please accept our sincere sympathy on the loss of your mother. We are very sorry for your loss and for the loss of this talented woman.Carol and Neil Sandler

  36. CCjudy

    Thank you for this and I am tearful. I am sorry for your loss.

  37. Yule Heibel

    Beautiful post, Joanne, thanks for sharing this portrait of your mother. Such complex territory …yes, “there will be many moments over the next few months where I will reflect on her and our relationship,” not least because you have daughters. Heck, I even think about my maternal grandmother who died years before I was born. Why? Because she had an effect on my mother …whose effect on me lives on in how I parent my children, particularly my daughter.May you find comfort in your family and friends when and where you need it.

  38. Sgitelle

    Oh I am so sorry for your loss ( and Fred and the kids) — Shar

    1. Gotham Gal

      appreciate it, really

  39. skysurfer172

    Sincere condolences. I lost my Dad this past August at the same age. I keep thinking of all the stories he told me about his life in Italy and Venezuela where he went at 16 to learn his trade, making his way to America in the 60’s and working hard every day to build and support a family. I’ve been desperately trying to reconnect to my heritage since his death after spending most of my life ignoring it and not realizing how much of it is part of me and my memories growing up. My Dad was a proud guy. He loved America. He loved the fact that his kids served honorably and went on to become successful adults. He also always remembered where he came from, always reminded us of our family’s roots. I’m listening now Dad. I wish I paid more attention before.

  40. Jill

    Joanne,Just got back to NYC and as today is a snow day, I am catching up on the web. I want to express my condolences to you on the loss of your mother. I was in group therapy all of last year and everyone in my group spoke of their mothers, which made me realize how intense, strong, and complicated the mother/child relationship is. No one really spoke of their fathers-no offense to the dad readers. The mother/child connection I think, is the strongest one yet.So keep her with you-always!

    1. Gotham Gal

      the mother/child thing is so very complicated, no doubt. thanks jill.

  41. Doug

    Joanne, My folks happen to be touring in Israel this week so when I came across the posts of your trip I was intrigued. I thought your posts were very well done and it sounded like a great trip. Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t read your blog before but enjoyed your writing so I continued on to your next post about your Mom. I was breathless. While your tribute is beautifully written and she must have been an amazing person, what captivated me was your poise in handling a difficult situation so gracefully…I never would have guessed the same person who authored the travel posts had just experienced such a loss. It seems you may have adopted some of your Mom’s trait of rolling up her sleeves and doing what she felt she needed to do for herself as well as her family. My condolences to you and your family. And bravo to you Joanne. You’re my hero this Holiday season. Best wishes for the New Year, Doug

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks doug, appreciate the comment. I definitely define the pull up yourbootstraps and get it done girl.

  42. Hankyspanky42

    Oh JoanneMy sincere condolences! What a wonderful story about your lovely momma who walked those streets of Bakersfield (my stomping grounds) many leave here in search of a dream and so many return to their roots because for one reason or another..their roads led them back home even tho it did not lead to the success they had wished for—-I lost my dear momma in May of 2010—and I myself am still not sure at what point that the heart ache gets easier–if you love someone hard it makes it even harder to let go—your mother will never be forgotten and your success and accomplishments are a true shout out to what a wonderful influence you had growing up 🙂 I am Bakersfield “Old school” and countrified lol and never looked outside of that box but your story about your wonderful mother brought tears to my eyes…best wishes always Gotham Gal 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      thank you so much. bakersfield…wow.

  43. Mwilkotz

    Joanne, I was so sorry to read about your mother. I love your approach to entrepreneurship, women in that space and cooking and when I read that your mother was from Bakersfield, like mine, and that you grew up in Northern VA (I grew up in Baltimore,) it just made the world feel that much smaller. I hope the pain of the loss is easing.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the relationship never goes away, just gets different. thanks for the note.