John Nottingham Somerville, 95, entered the presence of his Savior on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at his home in Montreat.
Born on January 13, 1928, in Guthriesville, South Carolina, he was the fifth of eight children born to Rev. Walter Gray and Hattie Read Nottingham Somerville. Raised in York County, John moved with his family to Cross Hill, in rural Laurens County, in 1944, prior to his senior year in high school. He spent that year at Clinton High, where John, a gifted athlete, joined a baseball team that won the 1945 South Carolina Class B State Championship. Also an exceptional student, he earned a full scholarship to the Citadel, a position he resigned early as he intended to enlist for military service. When World War II ended, however, he changed his plans, returned to college, and in 1949 graduated from Presbyterian College with a degree in Chemistry.
In 1953 John received his M.Div. degree from Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Later that year, while in Montreat training for the mission field, he met Virginia Bell, the daughter of long-time China missionaries Dr. Nelson and Virginia Bell. After a 23-day courtship, John and Virginia became engaged, then were married in November. Within only a few short months John and Virginia were aboard a ship, bound for South Korea, a country where they would serve until their retirement in 1994. During that time, John was involved in many ways––working with churches on islands off the southwest coast of the country, teaching at the Presbyterian seminary in Seoul, developing with his friend R.K. Robinson the groundbreaking programs at Ajax University, becoming involved with the Korean struggle for human rights, teaching at and contributing in countless ways to the life of Hannam University, and coaching baseball at his sons’ high school. While active with his many responsibilities as a missionary, John was a loving husband and father of five, a family to which he gave his unstinting devotion. He also found the time in the early 1960s to complete a Masters in Confucian Studies at the Confucian University in Seoul, then earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in East Asian Studies at Harvard University in the late 60s and early 70s.
In 1994 John and Virginia retired to Montreat, where their home became a happy vacation destination for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in the years to come. John stayed active with yardwork, as president of the Montreat Cottagers’ Association, volunteering with the Kiwanis Club, traveling to South and North Korea, and facilitating scholarly exchanges between American colleges and Hannam University. After the death of his beloved wife Virginia in 2006, John continued to live in Montreat with his daughter Elizabeth, whose deep filial piety in his final years made it possible for John to remain in his home until the end.
Preceding John in death, in addition to Virginia, were his brothers, Walter, Atwell, Ed, Severn, Jim, and Bill, and his sister, Helen. Surviving are his children, John Jr. (Karen): Mebane, North Carolina; Nelson (Mary): Dallas, Texas; Severn: Taejon, South Korea; Walter (Ruth Ann): Montreat; and Elizabeth: Montreat; eleven grandchildren; and seventeen great-grandchildren.
Details regarding services will be forthcoming.
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