Leonardtown, MD- On Saturday, April 10, 2021, Southern Maryland honored and paid tribute to the late Sheriff Joseph Lee “Joe Lee” Somerville Sr. Sheriff Somerville Sr. , who passed away on April 1, 2021, at the age of 81.
Born on Nov. 19, 1939, Somerville was one of six total deputies in the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in late 1966. It was in December that the Sheriff’s Office transformed into a 24-hour operation with full-time deputies.
In 1977, Somerville became both the first black sheriff in St. Mary’s Countyand in the state of Maryland when he was appointed by the governor to complete the previous sheriff’s term. Sheriff Somerville went on to win the 1978 election for St. Mary’s County Sheriff, which then made him the first elected black sheriff in St. Mary’s County and in Maryland as well.
On March 1, 1977, Somerville was sworn in as St. Mary’s County Sheriff on the steps of the courthouse in Leonardtown among a crowd of 350 people, according to the March 3, 1977 Enterprise newspaper.
In November 1978, Sheriff Somerville handily won the election for the county’s chief law enforcement officer, which again made history in St. Mary’s County and in Maryland.
At the time of the 1978 election, Sheriff Somerville was only the sixth black sheriff in the entire United States, according to “America’s First, A History of America’s Oldest Continuously Operating Sheriff’s Office.”
Somerville, 39 then, said he hoped his election would set an example for the rest of Maryland’s counties to follow.
“I say that we broke history when the Ark and Dove landed. That was a day of tolerance and celebration,” Sheriff Somerville said at his swearing-in ceremony in December 1978. “Today, I feel the same with me being sworn in as sheriff and representing the people in St. Mary’s County,” he said in the Dec. 20, 1978 issue of The Enterprise.
“I felt like he was a great guy to work for – very approachable,” Sheriff Cameron said of Sheriff Somerville. “I always felt like he genuinely cared about all of us,” Sheriff Cameron said.
In the September 1982 Democratic primary election, Sheriff Somerville lost the contest to Wayne Pettit, who went on to serve three terms as St. Mary’s County Sheriff.
Sheriff Somerville went on to work for 20 years as a Nuclear Security Officer at the Calvert Cliffs power plant. He retired there in 2013 and then served as a bailiff at the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court for a time.
Sheriff Somerville is survived by his wife of 59 years, Delores, daughter Terry Cutchember, his sons Joseph Lee Somerville Jr., Wayne Darrell Somerville, Kevin Darryl Somerville and Rodney Wendell Somerville.
“In 2018, I had the privilege of presenting Sheriff Somerville with a citation in recognition of his distinguished service to St. Mary’s County and the State of Maryland. He truly brought honor to the badge each and every day—a badge that represented not just a job, but his life’s calling,” Said Governor Larry Hogan in a Facebook post. His daughter, former St. Mary’s County Deputy States Attorney and current Anne Arundel County Assistant States Attorney Jaymi Sterling spoke at the funeral in place for her father. The governor and Lieutenant Governor had prior engagements.