At 46, Sol Richard Schwartz of Reisterstown had everything to live for. Married for 22 years to Ilene Legum Schwartz, they had two children and a loving extended family, countless friends and admirers and a career in which he excelled. By all accounts he was the definition of the word “mensch.”
His sudden death from a massive heart attack on March 16 is a tremendous loss to his family, friends and the community.
A Baltimore native, Sol Schwartz was the son of Judith and the late Herman Schwartz and the brother of Dr. Steven Schwartz and Cynthia Schwartz. He was a Pikesville High School graduate and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
When he was 20 years old, Schwartz met his future wife, and they were married at Beth Tfiloh Congregation four years later. In the early days of their marriage, Ilene Schwartz pursued a master’s degree in early childhood education — she now teaches 3- and 4-year-olds at Franklin Elementary School — and Sol Schwartz began working at Holabird Sports in Dundalk, which became his career.
Their daughter Dori, 17, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School, was a “daddy’s girl,” Ilene said, adding, “They [had] such a special relationship. It’s almost like they share the same soul, and she has his blue eyes. Sol always encouraged her in sports, [and] he taught her to drive. I was worried [about her driving], but because Sol said she’d be fine, I knew she would be.”
At the funeral, attended by nearly 800 mourners, Evan, 15, honored his father with a speech that shared all he loved about him.
“My dad cared about everyone else before him. … I’m sure every single person here could tell a story about his selflessness,” Evan said. “My dad was the kind of person that you just felt knew the answer to any question. He was the smartest and funniest guy I knew. He was by far the greatest man I ever knew, a blessing to this world — a blessing to all who associated with him.”
Evan’s speech also mentioned his father’s talent for cooking, his penchant for Greek salads with extra feta cheese and his love of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Aside from beloved family and friends, tennis — especially college tennis — was Schwartz’s other passion. He worked tirelessly to keep college tennis programs alive. In addition to managing Holabird and having a sixth sense about which tennis shoes were perfect for each player, Schwartz taught tennis and was a volunteer coach at UMBC, where he worked with head coach Ron Hubbard.
When the two met, Hubbard was competing on the pro tennis tour, and Schwartz was a 9-year-old “hanging out at the club trying to get someone to hit tennis balls with him,” Hubbard recalled. “I had just finished [a tournament’s] semifinals and was waiting for the finals, and I decided to go hit with him. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Little did I know it would turn into such a close friendship.”
When Hubbard learned of his dear friend’s death, he was with the UMBC tennis team in Dallas, where they were competing.
“I told the team I had to leave and that another staff member would bring them home two days later. But all the kids said, ‘No, coach. We’re going with you.’ They rarely saw Sol, but he had such an impact on them,” said Hubbard, who spoke at Schwartz’s funeral. “I was just floored when I walked in and saw the overflow crowd. How did such a young guy touch so many people?”
Through his coaching at UMBC and his work at Holabird, Schwartz became a mentor to many young athletes.
One of those athletes was the son of blogger and radio show host Lisa G. Stone, who wrote about Schwartz and his impact on her son and the tennis community.
“For my son, Sol acted as a mentor,” wrote Stone on her blog, ParentingAces.com. “He would ask the right questions or just listen if that’s what was needed. And my son was but one of many young people who had this type of relationship with Sol.”
Stone also wrote about the fundraising campaign Schwartz initiated through Holabird to help New York-area tennis programs and coaches after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Mid-Atlantic coastline in 2012.
“He solicited donations from all his industry contacts for things like cases of balls and hoppers so the coaches could get back to work,” Stone wrote. “He took to social media and posted daily on the various tennis groups asking for donations of time, money and equipment. He connected with the local [U.S. Tennis Association] office so he could stay on top of their needs. When they asked for something, anything, Sol delivered. He was their angel during a time of real crisis.”
“He touched so many lives,” said his wife. “People have been contacting me from all over the world to tell me how Sol helped them. I got a message from someone in India — Sol helped his daughter get a sponsorship from Adidas. Another woman, whose son played in the Australian open — she came to the funeral and wrote on Facebook: ‘Heads of state don’t get this kind of a turnout.’ I’ve also been getting messages from lots of the kids he coached. A lot of people tell me they want to be better people because of him.”
In addition to his immediate family, Schwartz is survived by his mother, Judith Schwartz, his brother, Dr. Steven (Lisa) Schwartz and sister Cynthia Schwartz, his mother-in-law and father in-law, Ina and Jeffrey Legum, his sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, Sherri and Gary Kassimir and Laurie and Jason Sklar, and many nieces and nephews.
Simone Ellin is a local freelancer writer.