In the quiet and wee hours of the morning on December 26, 2020, Dad met his Redeemer face-to-face. Truly healed. Truly at home. Truly at rest. James Andrew Somerville, lovingly known as “Jim,” was born on February 25, 1929, to Joseph Dellie and Susie Frederick Somerville, their fourth of 10 children. In a large family full of large personalities, Jim was a quiet strength, though some say he shared his brothers’ skill as a prankster. Jim grew up on the family farm in Loveville where he tended farm animals and worked the tobacco, corn, wheat, and soybean fields before and after school. With parents who were fully convinced of the importance of a good education, he learned that those busy days had enough hours in them for school. He received his early formal education at the St Joseph Colored School and the Maryland Springs School, and he later graduated from the Benjamin Banneker High School that his father, Dellie, along with other family and community members had helped establish for African American students in St. Mary’s County. Taught by his parents to try to accept and follow God’s will throughout his life, Jim grew up a devout Catholic who spent his childhood and young adult life as a member of St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Morganza, Maryland, a few miles from the family home. If work on the farm didn’t provide enough exercise, he often got to race his brothers to church (on foot) since the family auto wasn’t big enough for the family to ride to church together. These experiences were the foundation of his lifetime of working toward doing the will of God. The lessons learned by the example of his parents blossomed over the years into his personal ministry of service all over St. Mary’s County, metropolitan Washington, DC, and Baltimore, as well. A bout of rheumatic fever left young Jim with a heart condition and ultimately led to his receiving a 4-F classification from the armed forces, which prevented him from entering military service as a young adult. Instead, he fervently “held down the home fort” at a time when prejudice and segregation were seeing heightened intensity nationally. Whereas today folks have a protected right to go most anywhere and do most anything, segregation in most all venues was the norm during his time–schools, county fairs, church festivals and church sanctuaries, restaurants, job sites, and other venues strictly classified people by the color of skin and treated or mistreated them accordingly. Far from discouraging him, though, these conditions inspired Jim to follow the example of his father and give. He trusted God to work out the details while he focused on giving his time, energy, and means to family and community around him. As a big brother, Jim often found himself chauffeuring and chaperoning (as chivalrous young men did) his sisters, including the younger Dorris, around town and to dances. And as Providence would have it, Dorris was friends with one Helen Butler. Jim was introduced to Helen at one of those dances. He asked her to dance, and a real life fairytale began. Before long, Jim had fallen for the sister (Helen) of the girl (Harriet) who’d caught his older brother Bill’s eye, and he knew he had to make her his. Two sisters for two brothers…like something out of Hollywood. In 1953 he began his employ at the (then) Maryland State Roads
Commission. (Little did he know how increasingly meaningful this role would be to his children–besides in the obvious “food on the table” way–because they were always able to get the inside scoop on the snow forecast and often the first news of school closures!) On June 26, 1954, Jim wedded his lovely bride, Helen Butler, the fourth child of the late Harry and Dorothy (Moreland) Butler. This momentous occasion ushered in a new level of busy-ness for him. Over the next 17 years he and Helen were blessed to welcome nine children into their fold. Jim was rockin’ and rollin’! The man seemed bigger than life as he was unafraid of work and, even less so of child labor laws! Thus, his children, at very young ages, became familiar with weeding fields, harvesting vegetables, feeding pigs and cattle, driving farm equipment, and “working” tobacco. Even as his family was growing, Jim was active in the NAACP, the Knights of St. John, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He became a devoted member of the Oakville Tigers baseball team. He regularly mowed the grass at the St. Joseph’s Cemetery. He took wood and vegetables to people in need. He drove family members, friends, and strangers to doctor/hospital visits in the District of Columbia and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. (He must have known Baltimore like the back of his hand, because he drove there often.) He took the family on regular visits to spend time with the Oblate Sisters of Providence on Gun Road in Baltimore. When his sister, Catherine, was widowed and left to raise seven children alone, he stepped in to help with her family. He provided a father figure that kept the ties strong with those nieces and nephews right up to the present. He was devoted to extended family, especially older relatives, and he regularly took his children to visit with them. Seatbelt laws didn’t exist, so everyone fit in the family car–which was never a station wagon. He took his children to see Great-Great-Aunts Grace and Sarah (Grandpa Harry’s aunts, in Baltimore) and other people that they didn’t know. Sundays, for his family, meant going to Mass, then visits to great-aunts and other elderly relatives, and then eventually to Grandma Dorothy’s. Every summer he ensured the family’s attendance at the annual family reunions at Great-Uncle Purnell’s house. It was easy to see family was paramount to him! He forged time into his busy schedule to be available to everyone. He made several trips to Conway, Arkansas, to pick up school buses for his sister, Catherine. He drove school buses for the Mother Catherine Spalding School basketball teams and for many class trips when his children were enrolled there. He performed snow removal for the locals so they could get out to church or run other errands. He loaded his open-bed International (perhaps the ugliest truck ever invented) with his and the neighborhood’s children on payday to get ice cream at the Tastee Freez. He chauffeured local priests to Washington, DC, for retreats and meetings. He played a lead organizing role in the St. Joseph’s Church festival and supported all the other church festivals in the county. He gave money to people in need…and sometimes to his children–in exchange for lectures. He was proud and honored to attend the March on Washington in 1963 with his eldest daughter, Sharon, and to be in Washington for
Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979. As his children grew up, they became accustomed to Jim’s practice of “opening and closing” the church. That is where they learned “on time” meant “early” and “the party wasn’t over ’til the lights went out.” It naturally followed that in 1982, after much study, prayer, and travel, Jim became the second of his three brothers to become ordained to the Order of Deacon in the Diocese of Washington. (John Walter was first, Joseph William was third). He was most happy to have been assigned to his home parish of St. Joseph’s. There, he assisted in Masses, funerals, and Confirmations. He performed Baptisms and counseled couples for marriage. He routinely provided logistical assistance to former Washington Auxiliary Bishops Leonard Olivier and William Curlin. In 1995, Jim and his brothers (Deacons John and Joseph) were the recipients of the Caritas Award. This distinction is the highest official award of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and is presented annually to volunteers in recognition of outstanding leadership and commitment to Catholic Charities. Over the years, he was also recognized by numerous organizations in the community, county, and state for his selfless service to its people and causes. His was a very full life. Jim, both socially and politically conscious, was a pioneer in the desegregation of schools in St. Mary’s County. He worked hard to see the day when his children and others like them sat with students of other races to learn as equals and friends. He attended PTA meetings (which some of us dreaded), church meetings, and carried out BINGO duty. He made the BEST Christmas eggnog and stuffed ham! And he was well-known as the best car-repair man around. He maintained his own small library of automotive manuals– each one good and worn–for the many makes and models of cars that sat in a queue out by the barn as they waited for him to meticulously fix whatever ailed them. In more recent years, he volunteered with the Forestville Pregnancy Center, worked with Catholic Charities, and was active with the Sierra Club of Maryland. By the time he retired in 1983, Jim was Supervisor of Road Maintenance for the Maryland State Highway Administration. He returned to full(ish)-time farm life, diaconate duties, and helping others. In retirement, he worked as hard or harder than ever, doing anything he could for family and people needing a hand. He took Communion and regularly visited with the sick and shut-in. Jim cherished his memories of his two-week trip to Rome and Jerusalem in 2000 when he visited the Vatican and the Wailing Wall. He beamed whenever he reflected on that wonderful experience he shared with his brother, John (Walter), and sister-in-law, Audrey, as well as other friends in the Catholic community. He loved hard on his “grannies” and took an active interest in everything they were up to, checking on them right up to his recent hospitalizations. A quote from the 2017 Catholic Standard interview captured Jim in a nutshell when he said, “I devoted my life to the Lord, to try to do His will in whatever I do.” Others have offered these words to describe James Andrew Somerville: Husband, Father, Brother, Uncle, Grandfather, Pop-Pop, Deacon, Cousin, Friend, Neighbor, Traveler, Humble,Decent, Gentle, Prankster, Story-Teller, Kind, Tireless-Worker, Handsome, Dependable, Honest, Patient, Reliable, Loyal, Strong, Caring, Faithful, Loving, Discreet, Knowledgeable, Compassionate, Respectful, Responsible, Playful, Unselfish, Funny, Gentleman-to-the-End, Dad. Jim leaves to cherish his memory, his wife of 66 years, Helen Butler Somerville, his children, Sharon Briscoe, Bernadette Coleman (Ed), Stephanie Briscoe (George), Faye Estep, Carmen Burke (Brent), Michael Somerville (Jackie), Mark Somerville, Renee Fox, and Tonya Short; one sister, Loretta Collins; brothers-in-law, James Gerard Butler (Yvonne), and Stewart Butler (Orthella); sisters-in-law Mary Ugertha Tolson and Dorothy Tolson; 37 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren, 4 great-great-grandchildren, a host of nieces and nephews, cousins, friends, and his St Joseph’s Church family. Preceding him in death were: parents–Joseph Dellie and Susie (Frederick) Somerville; sisters–Helen Harris, Catherine Somerville, Dorris Scriber, and Laura Gray; brothers–Joseph (affectionately known as Bill), John (affectionately known as Walter), Rudolph, and David Somerville. Services will be private.