Peter D. Solomon

Annette Herskovits
Thursday November 23, 2017 - 08:01:00 PM
Peter and Annette
Peter and Annette

EDITOR'S NOTE: In March of 2003, while we were engaged with a crew of friends in setting up what was to become the office of the newly revived Berkeley Daily Planet on South Shattuck, a guy I’d know for a while, though not well, dropped in to see what we were up to. I had a speaking acquaintance with Peter Solomon, but was well aware of his semi-miraculous reputation. We had both been, at different times, associated with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Pacific News Service and, I think, perhaps others, and we had many mutual friends.

Peter was at one point the manager of the ever-impecunious SFMT, and also, he wrote a play or two for them. When I was an editor at PNS, he was remembered in reverent tones for his editorial prowess. He was known in other circles as a printer and/or typesetter. And there was more, much more than I knew about.

In 2003 Peter was coming to terms with Parkinson’s disease. He had trouble walking, but mysteriously riding a bike was easier for him. Though he was a witty talker, he sometimes had difficulty articulating by that time, but such details didn’t slow him down at all.

I’d heard great tales of his term as editor of The Montclarion when it was a lively independent weekly, back before it was essentially deconstructed by an unfortunate series of corporate acquisitions. I was pretty sure he knew a lot more than I did about running a small-time local paper, and he was fun to have around.

So we asked him to join our staff. None of the conventional titles seemed to fit what we needed him to do: come to editorial meetings and tell what we were doing wrong, and what opportunities we were missing. Finally we came up with the right one: éminence grise: “ a person who exercises power or influence in a certain sphere without holding an official position”, after the gray-robed monk who lurked at Cardinal Richelieu’s elbow.

As our éminence grise, he was the guy charged with nurturing “the vision thing.” During our difficult early years, he reminded us, when we had trouble remembering, why we were there. For a capsule discussion of what all this was about, see his graceful piece which ran at the top of Page One of the first issue of the revived Berkeley Daily Planet on April 1, 2003: Whose Berkeley?

Peter left Berkeley and this world in early October. Today, Thanksgiving Day, we are grateful that Peter shared so much of himself with us for as long as his health permitted, and we are very grateful to his faithful Annette, whose remembrance of him is below, for giving him so much joy and taking such wonderful care of him for so many years.

Peter passed away peacefully at home in the night of October 4/5.

He had been diagnosed with Parkinson disease 32 years ago. Only in the last four years did the illness become debilitating, with his mind and body failing him step by step. Several times, he expressed the wish to end it. When a hospital bed was brought to our house in the evening of October 3, Peter, who ordinarily refused medical contrivances and interventions, lay in it almost eagerly. He died 30 hours later with few moments of awareness. He had said to his daughter Rachel a few days before that he was not afraid of death, that it was just the next step.

Peter and I lived together for 40 years. Thanks to his love and patience, I progressively came out from the shadows of a holocaust childhood. I found a voice after many years of being silent.

Peter’s attention and generosity towards others were uncommon. He knew how to listen, how to comfort, how to provide helpful alternative viewpoints.

His mind worked in mysterious ways: he would grasp instantly what might take me days or months to figure out. This enabled him to skillfully edit books on most any topic: medicine, old English, economics, newspaper stories, etc. He wrote a play for a summer season of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, songs for their other plays, humorous political poems, etc.

He was so very funny. His humor was never cruel; instead, he made you see alternative sides of situations that most of us miss.

A journalist friend told me that Peter had been a mentor to a generation of progressive writers, a model for how to write and how to be a human being.

He remained true to his character throughout most of his illness— uncomplaining, available, insightful, funny… I feel so fortunate that we met and spent many years together.

There will be a memorial gathering in a few months. If you have memories of Peter that you would like to relate to me, I would much appreciate it.