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Queens Chronicle

Remembering Dr. Robert Somerville

Family physician still recalled fondly nearly 20 years after unsolved death

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Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:53 am, Thu Aug 7, 2014.

In November 1995, Dr. Robert Somerville, a popular physician in Southeast Queens, was driving to his Springfield Boulevard office in Queens Village when his car was struck by a man driving a stolen Jeep Cherokee.

Somerville would die 12 days later. The man who hit him was never caught.

Ronald Somerville of St. Albans might be in a store, at a civic meeting or chatting with acquaintances on the street when his father’s name comes up.

A few this past spring approached him at a meeting of the 113th Precinct Community Council.

“People always ask about Dr. Somerville,” he said. “They’ll say ‘I loved Dr. Somerville’ or ‘What ever happened with his case?’”

The latter question, to this day, remains an open wound for Ronald Somerville and his family.

“I was eventually told by the police that they would not be investigating his death any further,” Somerville said. “There’s got to be something that can be done. There’s got to be a way to open up a cold case.”

The NYPD did not respond to two emails from the Chronicle asking for comment on the family’s assertion.

That did not surprise Somerville.

“I’ve never had a good interaction with the NYPD or the 113th Precinct,” he said in a telephone interview this week.

Nor does it surprise Deborah Davis of Amityville, LI, cousin of Dr. Somerville’s widow.

“Not at all,” she said, expressing her belief that race played a factor in the decision to not pursue the case.

Davis’ fondest memory was when Somerville gave her away at her wedding in 1977.

“It was at his home in Island Park,” she said. “He opened up his home to me and many of my guests that he didn’t even know. He was really a very generous person.”

Ronald Somerville said his father was raised on a farm in North Carolina. He met his future bride in Washington, DC and, unable at the time to get into medical school, he enlisted in the military and served in World War II as a medic in Europe.

Ronald Somerville said the family lineage can be traced back to a prosperous farmer and slave owner in North Carolina named Somerville.

In breaking with most laws in the South before the Civil War, sons he fathered with slaves were taught to read and be educated.

“He’d have been hanged if people found out he did that,” Ronald Somerville said.

Back from WW II, Somerville got married. But his new bride, from the D.C. area, had no love for farm life in the SOuth.

“Mom thought my dad’s family were hicks,” he said. “In the South, sometimes the family doctor also delivered babies. Sometimes he would come back from delivering a baby or a house call and when people didn’t have money to pay, he’d accept chickens or rabbits. My mother wouldn’t want to skin or cook them.”

He brought the family to New York in 1958, and practiced in a number of places, including Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, when it was known as just plain old Jamaica Hospital, and the old LaGuardia Hospital in Forest Hills.

At the time of his death he was specializing in internal medicine at the old HIP Center in Queens Village.

Ronald Somerville said the warm reception he receives from total strangers upon learning his father’s name has long since stopped surprising him.

“He was the most loved person I’ve ever met, and not just because he was my father,” he said. “I’ve never met anyone who said a bad word about him. Nothing seemed to bother him. One time I even visited his old secretary and asked if he ever came in angry at anyone. She said nothing ever seemed to bother him.”

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