Passing of Jim Soles

Professor James R. Soles died this morning.  He’d struggled with health problems for many years.  His wife Ada Leigh passed in June of this year.  (We regret the misspelling of her name in the original version of this post.)

The University of Delaware has this to say.

The News Journal has this to say.

Governor Markell said:  “Delaware lost one of its great scholars and citizens with the passing of Professor James R. Soles.”  Markell ordered that state flags be lowered until the morning after funeral services.

Soles came to the Political Science department of the University of Delaware in 1968, the same year I started as a freshman.  It was a time of uproar and scandal, marked by the firing of two professors–Albert E. Myers (psychology) and Robert J. Bresler (political science)–for their opposition to the Vietnam war.  Soles mentored me, and was a significant influence on me, for a year or two.  Subsequently our paths diverged and I saw him only occasionally, the last time when he chaired a committee for Senator Tom Carper about a national park for Delaware.

Generous with his time, and with a genuine liking for people, he mentored as well as taught thousands of students over the next several decades.

Because Delaware is a small place, and the University of Delaware Poly Sci department serves as a trade school for Delawareans going into government, politics, and law, Soles probably had a significant influence on how Delaware is today.

Many times when people die, what’s written about them is profoundly misleading, whether out of ignorance or a desire not to “speak ill of the dead.”  When Ned Davis, described in one piece as “a cherished counselor to the state’s official class,” died in 2006, much was written about him, all of it nice and much of it true.  He was called a “progressive Democrat,” etc.  But a deeper truth is that Davis was a lobbyist for many of the most repulsive special interests in Delaware, such as the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.  He was a man at the service of special interests with big money.  Should that have been written?  Or is it just be taken for granted that accomplished Delawareans tend to work for the powers of darkness?

Back to Soles:  What’s his legacy?  I don’t know.  Personally, I was disappointed in him.  It seemed to me he became a pundit, a political junkie, a go-to guy for Delaware reporters wanting comments for a political story.  Did he speak out for justice, for democracy, for the interests of the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry?  Did he speak out against the various aggressive invasions and wars carried out by the US government?  Did he use his influence with the Delaware Democratic Party to to push it to become less corrupt and reactionary?  If he did, he was pretty quiet about it.

It would be interesting to know what Jim Soles thought about the “state” of Delaware as he neared the end of his life.

Jim Soles was a good man.  Someone special to a great many.  Perhaps he paid a certain price for making his career in a place that often seems to confine rather than expand the human spirit.

RIP.

Alan Muller

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