Herbert Solomon, Stanford professor with rich Jewish life

They called him Big Daddy.

That was the nickname students gave to Stanford Professor Herbert Solomon. On any given afternoon, those students — most of them math and science majors — would gather at Solomon’s feet near the campus cafeteria to watch “Big Daddy” hold court.

With his death last week, Stanford University lost one of its most esteemed professors, and the South Bay Jewish community lost a dedicated activist.

“He was a fabulous storyteller and wit,” remembered son Jed Solomon of Menlo Park. “Professionally and culturally, in academic and Jewish circles, people sought out his company. He was a man for all seasons.”

Solomon helped found Stanford’s statistics department. He was also a pioneering researcher in academia and with the Navy. But Solomon’s friends and loved ones agree, the role he valued most was family man. “Family came first,” said Jed Solomon. “There wasn’t a close second.”

Lottie Solomon said her husband “always had time for his children. He was a favorite in the neighborhood because he played stickball with all the kids.”

The stickball connection goes back to childhood. Born to Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City, Solomon earned a mathematics degree from City College of New York in 1940 and a master’s from Columbia University in 1941.

During World War II, Solomon joined Columbia’s Statistical Research Group, where he helped plan bombing raids on Germany, After the war, he resumed his graduate studies, meeting his wife-to-be at a Columbia University Purim dance. The two were wed soon after. They later moved to the South Bay.

They were early members of Congregation Kol Emeth, playing a key role in itse capital campaign. Their daughter Naomi was the first bat mitzvah at the Conservative Palo Alto congregation. Sons Jed and Mark both became b’nai mitzvah there as well. The family later joined Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills.

Despite a busy work and travel schedule, he was active in local Jewish Community Federation work and instrumental in expanding Stanford Hillel. He also served as president of a local chapter of B’nai B’rith. “We had a very rich Jewish life,” said Lottie Solomon. “Our three kids were brought up in a warm Yiddish environment, which we had to make for ourselves. There wasn’t much Jewish life at Stanford when we first moved there.”

Solomon retired at age 70, but remained active. Tragedy struck the family when Naomi was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, where she was giving a work presentation. Though crippled with Parkinson’s disease by then, Solomon never could watch films of the disaster without tears running down his face.

In addition to his wife, Lottie, of Los Altos Hills, sons Mark of Redwood City and Jed of Menlo Park, Solomon is survived by four grandchildren and brothers Seymour of New York City and Henry of Bethesda, Md.

The family requests donations to the Naomi L. Solomon Memorial Fund of the JCEF, 121 Steuart St., San Francisco, CA 94105, or to Stanford University for the Naomi L. Solomon Memorial Scholarship, Gift Processing, Office of Development, Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, 326 Galvez St., Stanford, CA 94305-6105.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.