Judy Solomon, Entrepreneur
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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.