LEONARDTOWN, Md. – The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County and St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office extended their condolences to the family of former Sheriff Joseph Lee Somerville, Sr., who passed away on April 1, 2021, at the age of 81.
“On behalf of the St. Mary’s County Commissioners, we express our deepest condolences and ask God’s Blessing upon the Somerville family,” said Commissioner President Randy Guy. “Joseph Somerville will be remembered and missed.”
Joseph Lee Somerville, Sr., affectionately known as (Joe Lee), was born on November 19, 1939 to the late Rosia Rosie Q. M. Somerville and William S. Herbert in Loveville, Maryland. He departed this life peacefully on April 1, 2021 at his home. Joe Lee attended St. Joseph Colored School in Morganza, MD, and Banneker High School in Loveville, MD, graduating in 1959. Joe Lee married the love of his life, Delores Briscoe on November 3, 1962. Together they enjoyed 58 years of marriage until the time of his death.
In his early life, Joe Lee worked as a short order cook for Bailey’s Restaurant in Leonardtown, MD. He was a member of Local Union 832 and employed as a concrete finisher in Washington, D.C. and as a truck driver for Charles County Concrete (now Chaney). Joe Lee was also a lifelong waterman.
In 1966, Joe Lee joined the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department (later renamed the Sheriff’s Office) becoming St. Mary’s County’s first African American Deputy. Deputy Somerville was promoted to Lieutenant in 1976. In 1977, Governor Marvin Mandel appointed Lt. Somerville to Sheriff, following the sudden death of then Sheriff Sanger. He was sworn in on the Courthouse steps on March 1, 1977 at the age of 37. He graduated from the National Sheriff’s Institute, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Academy, and the Maryland Police Training Academy. Sheriff Somerville completed the appointed term and ran for office in 1978, winning his election by an overwhelming majority. With this victory, Sheriff Somerville earned the distinction of being the State of Maryland’s first African American appointed and elected Sheriff. He was the sixth African American Sheriff in the country.
Sheriff Somerville was actively involved in the Battered Spouse Education Program and youth-oriented drug and safety education programs. He established several Neighborhood Watch programs, including night patrols, to help stem the rise of crime. As Sheriff, Joe Lee was dedicated to keeping control of the Sheriff’s Department in the hands of the local government and community. Sheriff Somerville retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 1982 following an unsuccessful re-election campaign.
Joe Lee fondly recalled memories from his time with the Sheriff’s Department. If anyone loved a job, it was Joe Lee. He loved to help people. In his words, “one should never be too big to help their fellow man, even if you have to get down in a ditch to do it.”
Following his retirement from the Sheriff’s Department, Joe Lee became a Nuclear Security Officer at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company in Calvert County, MD for 20 years, retiring in 2002. He then worked for six years in the Plumbing Department at Lowe’s in California, MD. It was there that Judge Karen Abrams offered him the position of Bailiff in her courtroom where he worked for 11 years. In addition, Joe Lee served as the Safety Advisor with his sons’ business, Somertyme Tree Service. Joe Lee was a hardworking provider for his family. His various careers spanned over 59 years; working until his health prevented him from doing so.
Joe Lee was involved in numerous community initiatives and was a member of several organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the Board of Directors for the Maryland State Sheriff’s Boys Association Ranch, the 4H Club, the Community Affairs Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also served on the Board of Directors for the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) but had to give up his position because he could not hold two public offices at once. Joe Lee was a member of Loveville Riders and Blue Knight Maryland IV Motorcycle Clubs.
Joe Lee received many accolades throughout his lifetime, including a Governor’s Citation from Governor Marvin Mandel (1978), a Resolution from the State of Maryland House of Delegates (1979), a Governor’s Citation from Governor Harry Hughes (1983), the Constellation Energy Group Faithful Service Award (2002), a St. Mary’s County Highway Safety Program Appreciation Award for his superior support of the Driver’s Education Program (2003), a United States Colored Troops Memorial Monument Committee Community Service Award (2009), a Certificate of Appreciation from the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) (2016), and the NAACP Crystal Stair Award (2018) to name a few. One of Joe Lee’s most memorable honors was being named Honorary Crew Member by McDonald’s Corporation on April 27, 1980 in recognition of his contributions to the children in the community. There is also an exhibit featuring Joe Lee and his law enforcement career at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, MD.
On February 22, 2018, St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office held a program to honor Joe Lee for his contributions as Sheriff and to St. Mary’s County. Speakers included St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron, who Joe Lee hired as a Patrol Deputy in 1980 and Sheriff Troy Berry, Charles County’s first African American Sheriff. During the program, presentations included a Proclamation from Governor Larry Hogan, a Citation from Senator Chris Van Hollen, a special presentation from the FBI, as well as the UCAC, NAACP, the FOP Lodge 7, St. Mary’s County Historical Society and Historical Trust.
When not at work or involved in the community, Joe Lee enjoyed many days tending to his garden, better known as the neighborhood garden, because of the amount of people it fed. He enjoyed riding motorcycles with his boys, especially his Suzuki Intruder, as well as many outings on his boat, the Quiet Storm. Joe Lee enjoyed hosting family and friends in his home where he took pride in serving his homemade wines, eggnog, and “special” beverages. He especially looked forward to hosting monthly pizza night with his “Friday Pizza Crew” where pizza and toasts were endless and the phrase “Be A Soldier” was heard. Joe Lee was a huge Washington Football Team (formerly the Redskins) fan. Joe Lee, Pops, Pop Pop, will be remembered for his sense of humor, quick wit, and he will truly be missed.
Joe Lee is survived by his loving wife, Delores; daughter, Terry Cutchember, and sons, Joseph Somerville, Jr., Wayne Somerville, Kevin Darryl Somerville, and Rodney (Christina) Somerville; 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; siblings, Margie Armstrong, Helena Holt, and Barbara (Spencer) Whalen; sisters-in-law, Imogene Somerville and Valeria “Tootie” Somerville; brother-in-law, Joseph “Moe” Jones and a host of nieces, nephews, God children, cousins, and friends. Joe Lee also leaves to cherish his memory Joseph and Aletha Barnes, Sherrie and Alan Blair, George and Sylvia Brown, Ernest and Martha Carter, Paul and Rebecca Rustin, and George and Angela Walker.
In addition to his parents, Joe Lee was predeceased by his brothers, Paul Vincent Somerville, James “Jimmy” Somerville, William S. Herbert, Jr., and Joseph “Joe Charles” Herbert, Sr.; sisters, Mary Armstrong, Betty Bray, and Dorothy Bush; sisters-in-law, Charlotte Jones and Deborah Brooks; and brother-in-law, Joseph “Junior” Briscoe.
On Friday, April 9, 2021, visitation and viewing will be held from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Briscoe-Tonic Funeral Home, 38576 Brett Way, Mechanicsville, MD. On Saturday, April 10, 2021, Mass of Christian Burial will begin at 11:00 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 29119 Point Lookout Rd, Morganza, MD.
Published online on April 2, 2021 courtesy of Briscoe-Tonic Funeral Home – Mechanicsville .