In Memory of Ada Leigh Wall Soles

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Ada Leigh Wall Soles, a 1956 initiate of Beta Eta chapter of Alpha Chi Omega, passed away earlier this month. She was a trailblazer, a woman who lived our values everyday, as you’ll see from the articles that follow. 

Delaware Grapevine: Remembering Ada Leigh Soles, 1937-2010

By Celia Cohen, Political columnist
Posted Jun 09, 2010 @ 04:01 PM
Dover, Del. —
Politics is not exactly known for its grace and decency. It is the reason Ada Leigh Soles stood out, because glad grace and deft decency were what she was.
Soles, a Democratic state representative from Newark from 1980 to 1992, was a political figure in her own right, but she did not stand alone.
She was also half of a compelling couple in her marriage with Jim Soles, a political scientist who peopled state politics for a generation with the students he taught at the University of Delaware.
Together they were an inspiration, a delightful pair who could fill your glass with the fine bourbon of their Southern roots, enlighten you with their wisdom, or liven up the moment with an observation that was wickedly on point but never tawdry.
In the infinite irony of life, they towered despite being small in size.
Ada Leigh Soles died Monday evening at 73 after a gallant toil against Parkinson’s disease for more than 20 years, her supple mind betrayed at length by an uncooperative body.
Tom Carper, the Democratic senator, met Ada Leigh and Jim Soles 36 years ago, Ada Leigh first. Carper was a graduate student, and they were introduced while attending a performance on the University of Delaware campus.
“I was smitten by Ada Leigh. What a wonderful, wonderful woman,” Carper said.
Carper stayed impressed. After he was elected governor in 1992, he brought her in to his administration, primarily because of her knowledge of the legislature.
She had proved herself there, the memory of it still clear to Lonnie George, a fellow Democratic legislator before becoming the president of Delaware Technical & Community College.
“She was the consummate citizen-legislator, a woman of integrity, intellect and vision who brought to bear all of her talents and energy to represent her constituents,” George said.
“In a difficult environment, she always remained a gentlewoman, treating everyone with dignity and respect. Delaware has lost one of its most beloved public servants.”
Soles arrived in Legislative Hall in Dover at just the right time, as the General Assembly was reinventing itself as something at least marginally better than a glorified frat house, where the place was soggy with booze and not just bills were laid on the table.
She brought class and civic-mindedness. She brought her Newark constituents’ devotion to learning and libraries. The majority Republicans in the House of Representatives saw a star in the making and countered. They stuck her on the agriculture committee, instead of the education committee she requested, to try to make her disappear. It backfired.
Soles instantly became a cause, her committee assignment protested by Lonnie George, then the Democratic minority leader.
“You’ve got the numbers and you can punish us,” George railed. “A woman of her intellect is being punished. They don’t want to give her the exposure she needs to show her constituents what a good legislator she can be. They’re cutting her right at the knees.”
Soles said simply, “I will do a good job wherever I serve.”
Soles was a rare legislator who actually could change minds and votes during debate. A bill that would have limited the right to trial by jury in certain circumstances appeared to be on its way to easy passage, but it was voted down after she spoke against it.
Soles did not mind causing a little mischief. In one of those times, she involved herself in a story about how Carper met Ed Freel, his chief political strategist who also was the secretary of state when he was governor.
After a stint as Jim Soles’ graduate assistant, Freel went to Florida for a job and left a girlfriend behind in Delaware. They agreed they would date other people, but Freel came to think she was seeing someone else a little too much.
It was 1974. It was going to be a huge Democratic year because of Watergate, and Jim Soles decided to run for the state’s lone congressional seat, unsuccessfully as it turned out. Freel came home to manage the campaign and reclaim his girlfriend. She introduced him to the other guy — “Ed, I’d like you to meet Tom Carper.”
All three of them worked on Soles’ campaign. All three of them also went their own way romantically and married other people.
In interviews for a book about Delaware politics, Carper and Freel freely told the story of the mutual girlfriend but kept her name out of it. When they were not around, Ada Leigh Soles secretly spilled it.
The girlfriend later consented to have her name used. You can look it up in Only in Delaware, a modern history of state politics, because of Ada Leigh Soles.
Grace and decency and a little mischief. What a gift.

Former Delaware lawmaker Ada Leigh Soles dies

Honored as advocate for education, libraries

Education advocate and former state representative Ada Leigh Soles of Newark died Monday night at age 73.
Her husband of more than 50 years, University of Delaware Distinguished Professor Emeritus James R. Soles, said, “She was outstanding in every way.”
“She was a very, very special lady and an unbelievable presence, a tremendous mother and grandmother,” said her son-in-law Paul J. Pomeroy, a Newark city councilman. “It’s a tough loss, not only for the family, but for the community.”
A representative from 1980 through 1992, she had five Joint Finance Committee terms, led grant reform and championed ethics, education and libraries.
U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, offered condolences, calling her “a very bright, kind-hearted, compassionate and genuine woman who always had the best interest of her constituents and district in mind.” Recalling times with her when he was governor, Castle said, “I will always remember very fondly her sincerity for helping others.”
Soles decided not to run again as Parkinson’s disease began to tire her, but she became a senior adviser to then-Gov. Tom Carper.
“We needed somebody who understood the legislature, knew the legislators and was trusted by both Republicans and Democrats,” Carper said. “Because of her, they were willing to work with us.”
Carper said her death made him sad, but grateful he knew her.
Soles had been in a Newark-area care facility for the past 18 months. “She was in such bad health for so long,” James said, “at least she is now at peace.”
Ada Leigh and James met in college, working at a summer camp in their home state of Florida. She was valedictorian at Landon High School,Jacksonville, where her mother had been the first valedictorian, and studied English at Florida State University.
“I knew she was the only person on Earth I would be happy with,” he said. “I proposed to her over 300 times, once twice in one day.” She finally agreed.
Ada Leigh was first in her class, president of Alpha Chi Omega and the student body.
In 1968, they came to Newark. As their two daughters grew, she worked at UD, led library groups and the League of Women Voters before she was recruited to run for the House. She is in the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame and received honors from the University of Delaware, National Library Association, the Delaware Bar Association and Delaware Humanities Forum.
Last year, a student of 45 years earlier wrote to her that Ada Leigh made a huge difference in her life. James “read that letter to her many, many times.”
On Aug. 1, James held her hand and said it was their 50th anniversary. “She said, just as clear as a bell, ‘We were married on a Saturday,'” he said. “That was the last moment that I’m certain she knew who I was.”
She is survived by Catherine and Paul J. Pomeroy, children Paul IV and Julia; Nancy Beth and Dan Garrett of California and children Elizabeth Leigh, Thomas, Maggie and Jack.
A memorial will be 11 a.m. Monday at St. James Episcopal Church, 2916 St. James Church Road, Stanton. The family suggests gifts to Friends of Newark Free Library, 750 Library Ave., Newark, DE 19711 or Food Bank of Delaware, 14 Garfield Way, Newark, DE 19713.
Contact robin brown at 324-2856 or

Posted: June 14, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The church held the state. St. James Episcopal Church is a 300-year-old sanctuary near Newark, compact and colonial in its motif, but in all its days, it never had a gathering like the one it had late Monday morning as its bell pealed in grief.
The Stars & Stripes and the Delaware flag, solemnly at half-staff in the dooryard by the governor’s proclamation, signaled what was unfolding within.
It was a memorial service for Ada Leigh Soles a week after her death at 73. As a Democratic state representative from Newark from 1980 to 1992, she was hardly Delaware’s most famous public figure or its most powerful, but she was its wise counsel and its conscience.
The church was the right place for this moment. No Delawarean could fail to fall for its historic charm or its intimate embrace, a site of worship since the days of Caesar Rodney with an interior that could just squeeze in the state’s officialdom in a reminder that Delaware’s smallness is its pride and joy.
So they came, 200 people shoulder to shoulder, upstairs and down, in the white boxlike pews.
Governor Jack Markell. The congressional delegation. Chancellor Bill Chandler, former Supreme Court Justice Bill Quillen and Len Stark, nominated for a federal judgeship. Newark Mayor Vance Funk. Former Lieutenant Governor John Carney. House Speaker Bob Gilligan and former Speaker Lonnie George. Past and present legislators, past and present Cabinet secretaries, professors, family members and friends.
The Rev. James Bimbi, who presided, was distinguished enough himself as the 41st rector of St. James but still seemed somewhat thrown by his congregation for the day. He supposed he was the only one there who never ran for office.
“I was president of my high school student council, if that counts,” he said.
People came in memory of Ada Leigh Soles but just as much in honor of Jim Soles, her husband whose years as a political science professor at the University of Delaware made him a patron saint of state politics.
Together they guided a generation in public life, and the pews were crammed with people who treasured their touch.
Three governors spoke at the service — Markell, the current Democratic one, along with Tom Carper, now a Democratic senator, and Mike Castle, now the Republican congressman.
Ada Leigh Soles was remembered for taking up the causes of learning and libraries and for her unequaled civic-mindedness and conduct. Still, she was no porcelain doll, as Jim Soles reminded everyone with a story he told.
“When a lobbyist invited her to dinner, he asked if he could get her a white wine spritzer, and when she replied, she served notice that she was not a ‘lady’ legislator but a legislator. ‘No,’ she said, ‘but I would enjoy a double Jack Daniels on the rocks.”
As Carper put it, “She had the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces.”
The tribute from Jim Soles was the heart of the memorial service. For him, it was love at first sight, but Ada Leigh made him work before he could turn it into love forever. He had to propose any number of times, and on his first try, she told him they should stop seeing each other.
“That is not just a ‘no,'” he said.
Jim Soles is grateful he got Ada Leigh. As a matter of fact, Delaware is grateful it got her, too.

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