Obituary: Dusty Vineberg Solomon, 96, a pioneering journalist in Montreal

Dusty Vineberg Solomon, who died at age 96 on Sept. 23, was a trailblazer for women in Canadian newspaper journalism.

Despite her conservative upbringing, Solomon had an independent spirit and pursued an unconventional life for women of her generation. In 1949, she went to New York to study journalism at Columbia University—one of the few women in her class—and later became a reporter and columnist at the Montreal Star, then the leading English-language daily in the city.

Born Augusta Vineberg in Montreal on Dec. 21, 1926, she adopted the penname (and later byline) Dusty Vineberg when she was 10 and attending Roslyn School, a public school in Westmount, mainly to avoid the detested nickname Gussy, her stepson David Solomon recounted at her funeral. Even her closest acquaintances never knew what her given first name was.

After graduating from Westmount High School, Solomon earned an undergraduate degree in English in 1948 at McGill University where she was an editor at the McGill Spectator.

After getting a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia, she began working at the Combined Jewish Appeal in its press office. In 1955, she joined The Montreal Star, one of the first female journalists in the newsroom (also one of the few Jews), where she would remain for more than two decades.

In his memoir, Christy McCormick, who began his career in 1960 as a copy boy at the Star, remembers Solomon as one of only four women on general assignment in the newsroom. She became known as Dusty “Two Story” Vineberg among her colleagues because she frequently returned to the office with more than a single story to write up.

Solomon became a leading features writer and, in 1957, one of the first television columnists in Canada. Over 1966 and 1967, Solomon extensively covered Expo 67, a plum beat.

A 1970 photo of Solomon at her desk, donated to the McCord Stewart Museum, shows her elegantly coiffed and attired, sitting behind a manual typewriter and black rotary phone.

During her 22 years at the Star, Solomon interviewed and became friends with many well-known people, including writer Robertson Davies, poet Irving Layton, scientist Lee Salk, architect Moshe Safdie, and actor Geneviève Bujold, and won several awards.

Solomon was also an editor at DecorMag, and at Tundra Books, the groundbreaking children’s book publisher founded by her friend May Cutler, who was a Westmount mayor. In a 1972 article, Solomon reported on a finding that only one working mother appeared in 149 children’s books surveyed.

In 1974, she married Dr. Samuel Solomon, a McGill professor of medicine and biochemistry and a pioneer in the field of molecular endocrinology. She became a devoted stepmother to his three sons.

In their retirement, the couple enjoyed time together in Way’s Mills in the Eastern Townships, hosting their many friends. He was an avid gardener and she continued her lifelong love of cooking. Samuel Solomon died in 2008.

Besides her professional accomplishments, Solomon is remembered as someone with a zest for life, who loved good food and drink, and dining out at Montreal’s top restaurants. Her eldest stepson David recalls Solomon driving her baby-blue Mustang convertible, sunglasses perched atop her flaming red hair.

She was a hard worker, often staying until 11 p.m. at the Star, but was dedicated to her family. “She could be tough and direct, but never with malice,” he said.

In tribute, he gave his eldest daughter Rachel the middle name Dusty Vineberg. She spoke emotionally of her grandmother at the funeral.

Solomon continued to drive and be engaged into her 90s, and only late in life moved into a seniors’ residence.

Solomon was a generous mentor. Former Wall Street Journal political writer and Boston Globe Washington bureau chief David Shribman said Solomon gave him his first break in journalism.

“I was in my mid-teens, living in the Boston area, possessed of a precocious and premature interest in journalism. My grandmother, Sadye Marks, put me in touch with Dusty—a good contact for you, she said. We corresponded for many years.

“When my high school band came to Montreal, she helped me place a story about the band exchange in the Star—a $25 fee and my first big-city byline. I was 18.

“Later, when I was a student at Dartmouth College, I would send the occasional piece to her. She was unsparing in both her criticism and her enthusiasm… In part on the power of her encouragement, I actually did become a journalist… She was a lovely lady and she had an enormous impact.”

Former staff members of The Canadian Jewish News also have warm memories. David Lazarus noted that his late father Charles Lazarus was a colleague and friend of Solomon’s at the Star. “I chatted with her periodically…She was smart, savvy and could not be fooled. But she was also kind and full of heart.

Heather Solomon Bowden (no relation) knew Solomon from the Women’s Press Club of Montreal. “Dusty was a brilliant and warm woman, always stopping to chat and catch up with friends.”

At her funeral, Shaar Hashomayim’s Rabbi Adam Scheier said Solomon remained attached to the synagogue in which she grew up, attending High Holiday services and, with her younger sister, the late Trina Berenson, observing the yahrzeit of their father Herbert Vineberg. Solomon died on the same day as when that anniversary occurred this year, he noted.

Besides David, Solomon is survived by stepson, Jonathan Solomon (her stepson Peter predeceased her) and their children.